YAKIMA, Wash. — The U.S. needs to produce more canned pears or they may be dropped from menus in schools, health care facilities and other food service settings like corporate cafeterias and jails where they are most heavily used, a canned pear promoter warns.
Grocery store shoppers have in recent years turned toward fresh pears, leaving canned pears more to the food service sector but some distributors and food service operators don’t want to provide a product that’s in short supply, Mark Miller, promotion director of the Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service, said. He spoke to pear growers and processors at the annual meeting of the Washington-Oregon Canning Pear Association
at the Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel in Yakima, Feb. 27.
With growers making good money on fresh and processed pears and processors operating on slim margins, it may be time for growers to plant more pears, Miller said.
Shrinking canned pear production and inventory has boosted 2014 contract processed prices for growers to $300 per ton for No. 1 grade Bartlett, the highest in more than a decade, said Jay Grandy, association manager.
That’s the good news because growers like higher prices, Miller said. The bad news, he said, is that shrinkage threatens the industry and opens the market to more Chinese imports.
Carryover of canned pears from one season to the next was the lowest in many years this past June and December inventory was down 17 percent, Grandy said. As a result of lighter U.S. production, imports from China increased from about 1.2 million, 22-kilogram cases in 2012 to 1.5 million in 2013, he said.
“Some distributors say why promote canned pears when in March there won’t be any and if product isn’t available (food service) operators will remove them from their menus,” Miller said.
Washington and Oregon produce 85 percent of the nation’s pears, California the rest. Most canned pears are Yakima Bartlett. Canneries have shrunk to three: a Del Monte plant in Yakima, a Seneca Foods plant in Sunnyside and The Neil Jones Food Co. in Vancouver.
Northwest Bartlett production has average 228,000 tons per year over the past decade with the amount canned dropping from 144,718 tons in 2004 to 114,741 tons in 2013 while fresh tonnage has increased.
Typically, the USDA buys 12 percent of PNW canned pears for school lunches. USDA bought 1.2 million cases in 2013 and peaked at over 2 million in 2000.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required schools to double servings of fruits and vegetables in lunches in 2013. USDA anticipated a 25 percent increase in school orders for canned pears in 2013, but schools asked for 40 percent more and USDA was only able to increase 12 percent, Miller said.
Miller and his associate, Rensi Shirley in Illinois, promote canned pears to food service distributors and food service operators. They provide recipes and ideas for serving canned pears. Pear smoothies and a pear-quinoa salad are contest winners they push.