Foreign retailers sweet on Northwest fruit
Buyers take tour to consider direct purchases, learn about storage
By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Nataliya Antokhina, purchasing manager for a chain of 600 grocery stores headquartered in Moscow, Russia, had never been to the Pacific Northwest.
On her fourth day of a Pear Bureau Northwest tour, she said she was impressed by the dedication and motivation of those she met in the pear industry.
"They like what they are doing. It makes me trust them more," she said.
Antokhina was one of 18 retailers from Russia and India on the tour designed to educate them about the Northwest pear industry and give them opportunities to line up direct purchases, saving money by avoiding importers in their countries.
Antokhina and Gurinder Singh, a New Delhi retailer with 700 stores, both said they are considering direct purchases to save money. Singh said direct buys give him more control of the supply chain and access to fruit when he wants it.
Direct imports save money but also mean more work for retailers in handling logistics and transportation, said Jeff Correa, the Pear Bureau's international marketing director.
Russian consumers suspect U.S. pears might be genetically modified because of their good storage life and need to be assured they are not, Antokhina said.
The tour began at the Pear Bureau office in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie on Oct. 11 with instruction on how to handle, store and display pears.
Many of the markets in Russia and India have only one cold room temperature, which is probably bad for everything, Correa said. Some items keep better outside cold storage, he said.
Natural ethylene from pears speeds up the decay of limes, leafy greens and cucumbers, so it's best not to store or display pears next to them, he said he told the group.
Pears are an impulse purchase, so it's important to have attractive displays and agreeable prices, Correa said.
"We reminded them that removing bruised fruit is key to attractive display. They keep putting it out there. It's difficult to measure your loss from how many people don't buy. We tell them to slice up bruised fruit for customer sampling," he said.
The group toured Diamond Fruit Growers and Stadelman Fruit in Hood River on Oct. 12. The next day, they visited Congdon Orchards and Wal-Mart in Yakima, and Peshastin Hi-Up Growers in Peshastin in the upper Wenatchee Valley.
They finished Oct. 14 at the Washington Apple Commission and McDougall & Sons packing in Wenatchee.
Then they flew to the Produce Marketing Association's annual international convention and exposition in Orlando, Fla., Oct. 15-18. Many Northwest tree fruit shippers promote their fruit at the convention, which is attended by about 18,500 people in the fresh produce and floral industries.