With the coronavirus pandemic driving more people to shop online, Kevin Moffitt, the president and CEO of Pear Bureau Northwest, says the industry faces both challenges and opportunities competing against other fresh produce in the virtual marketplace.
The bureau — which markets under the name USA Pears — is working to keep pace with changes in consumer behavior and getting pears into the hands of online buyers, Moffitt said during a virtual meeting of Oregon and Washington growers on Jan. 12.
Grocery shoppers in the U.S. spent roughly $5.9 billion on pickup and delivery orders in November 2020, compared to $1.2 billion in August 2019, Moffitt said. Thirty-six-million U.S. households are now shopping online, versus 16 million in 2019.
"What's dangerous here is the loss of impulse purchases," Moffitt said, adding that more than 50% of shoppers are less likely to buy fresh produce online than they do in-store.
To combat that trend, Moffitt said the bureau rolled out several initiatives in 2020 to keep pears on shoppers' minds, including purchasing banner ads on grocery websites and "sponsored searches" in which pears appear as a selection when customers search for certain keywords, such as "fruit."
Sponsored searches have been one of the most effective tools for marketing, Moffitt said, with a nearly 20-to-1 return on investment. The bureau plans to continue sponsored searches with large online retailers including Walmart, Instacart, Amazon Fresh and Kroger.com.
In another promotion with Walmart slated to begin later this month, 200,000 online shoppers will receive a free d'Anjou pear with their online purchase and curbside pickup.
"As you can see, we've been fast, flexible and creative to take advantages that arose during the (coronavirus) crisis," Moffitt said.
And, Moffitt said, they've been doing it with a fraction of the marketing budget compared to other commodity and industry trade groups.
The most recent marketing budget for USA Pears was $3.5 million, whereas California table grapes had $9 million, Cosmic Crisp apples had $10 million and California and Mexico avocados had a whopping $43 million.
"You can see we have our work cut out for us to remain relevant," he said.
Kathy Stephenson, director of marketing communications for USA Pears, highlighted how the bureau is using social media platforms to interact with customers, as well as traditional media sharing farmers' stories, recipes and health benefits.
Stephenson said 25% of what the bureau used to spend on print advertising now goes into social media campaigns on sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
"These folks are clicking over to our website, which is providing them with recipes and ideas. It shows strong engagement," she said. "This is really an exciting opportunity for us to improve constantly."
The best thing growers can do, Moffitt said, is to continue producing fruit that is ripe, delicious and ready to eat within days of purchase.
According to surveys, one-quarter of consumers said they will wait two months or longer to buy fresh pears if they eat one that is bland or dull. On the flip side, 73% said they will buy fresh pears within a week of eating one that is fresh and flavorful.
Conditioning pears is the key to unlocking their flavor quickly, Moffitt said. They are treated with ethylene, a natural hormone that regulates the ripening of plants.
"You know how important it is for consumers to consume a tasty pear, in order to get that repeat business," he said.
In other business, growers at the meeting re-elected Gordon Sato of Parkdale, Ore., as a member of the Oregon and Washington Fresh Pear Committee representing the Mid-Columbia District.
Ron Rivers was re-elected as first alternate for the seat, and Jon Laraway was re-elected as second alternate.