The European pear market currently appears to be at a minor impasse. There is talk of a difficult Conference season in the Netherlands. Other classic pear-producing countries, such as Italy and Germany, are also dealing with subpar demand. A positive exception seems to be France, where the pear market is still growing.
While fruit from storage is available in the northern hemisphere, the harvest is in full swing south of the equator. In the southern growing countries, the season is not developing without problems either. The ongoing Corona crisis, but also the weather and Brexit, are behind those challenges.
Belgium: Difficult Conference season
The Belgian Conference season has been challenging so far. The harvest this year turned out to be larger than many growers and traders had expected, resulting in large volumes on the market. On top of that, the demand has been lagging, which means there are a lot of pears on the market, pushing prices down. However, the Doyenné du Comice has had a good season. The cold chambers are almost empty and the season has ended with great prices.
Netherlands: Conference pear market not encouraging
The Conference market is not very encouraging at the moment, according to a Dutch exporter. “There is enough going to almost every corner in Europe and beyond. Unfortunately, these high sales are not resulting in attractive prices. The stock figures for both the Netherlands and Belgium as of 1 February provide food for thought.
The sector is much divided, which results in there being too many supplying parties, compared to the increasingly concentrated purchasing parties. A phenomenon we are all responsible for and which will not be resolved in the medium term. In no case does this promote good pricing.”
When it comes to imports, he expects retailers to reduce them. “After all, they have plenty of European fruit at their disposal until July / Aug. The end of the Comice pear season went exceptionally well. The acreage is getting smaller due to the challenges in their cultivation, and this, in combination with the stability in sales / consumption, is resulting in a healthy balance and offers prospects for the future.”
Italy: Supply and demand in balance
Pears are sold in Italy without too many issues. The demand for the fruit is actually not too high, but there has been a poor harvest, so the supply and demand are well-balanced. One trader says that the William variety is the one with the most difficulties in its sale.
In general, prices are neither high, nor too low. Another trader voices some concerns, as Abate pears from South America will be arriving in Europe in the coming weeks, posing a threat to the unsold Italian pears.
Germany: Substandard demand, stable prices
The supplies from Italy, the Netherlands and Germany have all declined somewhat, but there has still been enough to meet the demand. The South African Bon Chretien played only a marginal role; the new harvest was sold in Hamburg for 16 Euro / 12.5 kg (70 pcs). The winter weather took a toll on the demand across the board.
Trade is therefore slow, although this is not so much reflected in the price. After all, the price levels are extremely stable. In Cologne, Dutch pears recorded slight price drops during the week. In Munich, on the other hand, the price of Italian pears was generally somewhat higher than before. Lastly, in Hamburg, the prices of the large-sized Turkish Deveci have dropped slightly.
Spain: Pear exports are losing ground
It has been an extremely difficult year for the Spanish Blanquilla pear so far, with quality problems due to the frost and a surplus of smaller sizes. The main export markets are Italy, Israel and Greece. However, Israel is sufficiently supplied with its own domestic production this year.
Moreover, Israeli consumers prefer the larger sizes, which are extremely scarce in Spain this season. Greece is now increasingly focusing on its own cultivation, which means that imports from Spain are being reduced. Cyprus is also supplied with Greek products, as a result of which this sales market is also gradually being lost.
The Spanish Conference was very popular during the first half of the season, which meant that the demand was significantly higher than the supply. This changed as soon as Dutch and Belgian volumes entered the market and were offered at low, attractive prices. As a result of this, Spanish prices were pushed downwards. The Spanish volumes in storage may be low, but as long as the Netherlands and Belgium continue putting pressure on the market, the season will likely continue to be difficult.
In the longer term, climate change is also playing a major role, reports a Spanish exporter. “The warmer winters make Belgian and Dutch Conference pears sweeter in taste, causing the Spanish production to lose relevance in the international market.”
South Africa: Exports behind schedule
The South African pear season has fallen about 500,000 12.5 kg boxes behind in terms of exports compared to last year. The season has started slowly. One third of the 1.5 million boxes of pears exported to date have gone to Europe. The second and third largest buyers of South African pears are the Middle East and Russia.
The early harvest of William / Bo Chretien (Bartlett) pears is over, but the roughening of the pears has caused exports to decline. The Packhams harvest has also started and a number of growers have noted how beautiful the fruit is looking this year, so higher packouts are expected. A major hail storm in the Langkloof, about a month ago, caused a lot of damage to pear orchards in that area.
The estimate for pears for 2021 is 17.14 million 12.5 kg boxes, roughly the same as last year’s volumes. A pear trader says that the overall demand for top fruit is currently somewhat low and that prices are not great.
Oceania: Concern about picker shortages
The pear harvest in Australia and New Zealand is now slowly starting, but both countries are concerned about the shortage of pickers. Due to the measures against the coronavirus, both governments have hermetically closed their borders for about a year, thereby preventing the flow of international harvest workers. This could lead to lower yields, but it is still too early for exact harvest estimates. The problem could also encourage growers to prioritize quality over quantity.
In Australia, according to Hort Innovation statistics, 118.5 tons of pears were grown in the past year (up to June 2020). This represented a growth of four percent compared to 2019. The total value of the production increased by 13 percent, to $ 130 million, with 39 percent eventually ending up in the processing sector.
Australia also exported 9.7 tonnes, with barely a third (3.2 tonnes) going to neighboring New Zealand. In terms of varieties, the Packham is still the most common one on the fresh market, with 63 percent of the total harvest, followed by the Williams (20%) and Beurré Bosc (10%). About 60 percent of the Australian population consumes fresh pears.
Argentina: Average harvest, good export market
In Argentina, the harvest started in week 2-3, as expected. The estimated volumes are about average, with hail storms possibly having caused a slight reduction. A short heatwave in January could lead to quality problems for the late Williams pears. On the sales side, Russia and Brazil are the main export markets for Argentinian pears, followed by Europe and the US.
The higher demand in Europe this season will be met with volumes that are usually intended for Russia. Overall, there is still a high demand for Argentinian pears on the export market and prospects point to this trend likely continuing during the rest of the season.
Chile: Minimal impact of rainfall
Recent rainfall in Chile has had a small impact on pear volumes, although this has been insignificant compared to that of neighboring countries. As long as growers take the necessary measures to protect their crops from the rain, the consequences should be minimal. Chile’s production is currently in full swing and volumes are exported by ship to many destinations.
France: Pear market on the rise
The season for French pears has been developing satisfactorily to date. The volumes are about 10 percent higher than last year, and the quality in storage is also very good. The pears have a high Brix across the board and hardly any damage to the skin.
The sector is also more than happy with how sales are going. French consumers have again embraced domestic pears and consumption is on the rise. Younger consumers are particularly fond of the new varieties that have been introduced in the market in recent years.
They are therefore willing to pay more for domestic pears. Sales are even on track to break records, they report. However, this also has a downside: at the moment, it is not possible to meet all the demand with the domestic production.
North America: Small pears and moderate harvest; high price levels
This year, North America has a smaller harvest than in 2019, reports market researcher Randy Hartmann, of Bellevue. “The main variety in Washington and Oregon is still the D’Anjou, with a share of about 50 percent; however, the production is significantly lower than the 8.5 million packages previously estimated. The volume has dropped by about 11 percent, which can be partly explained by the lower yields in older plantations.”
In the long run, it could become a problem for regional cultivation, says Hartmann. “This, in combination with rising wage costs and other challenges in the field of cultivation, harvesting, packaging and sales, will have inevitable consequences for the local economy and the prosperity of our growers.”
The Bartlett pear variety, on the other hand, is on the rise, according to Hartmann, with an estimated growth of 500,000 packages per year. Together, the D’Anjou and Bartlett account for about 75 percent of the total harvest, followed by the Bosc (14%) and the Red D’Anjou (5%)
This season is characterized by a predominance of small sizes for the majority of the varieties. This, in combination with the limited volumes and an increasing demand from the food service, which is now starting up again, is resulting in very high price levels. “On average, the price per package is $ 3- $ 4 higher than in 2019,” Hartmann says.
“This has everything to do with the limited supply, the good quality, and the higher share of fruit with a high Brix and suitable size for the retail sector, but also a good pack-out rating and relatively few discards. In terms of quality, the 2020 harvest will therefore go down in the books as an exceptionally good one. Moreover, pears are recording between 8-15 percent growth per year within the national retail.”
Hartmann predicts that domestic Barletts will remain available at national retailers for another two weeks. After that, imported Bartlett pears will start to appear.
Great Britain: South African season in the starting blocks
The United Kingdom is preparing for the start of the South African pear season. The first pears from South Africa are currently on their way and will soon be available in the retail. Brexit is not causing any major problems for the time being; at most, a slight delay in the ports.
However, this has more to do with the understaffing in times of Covid-19 than with Brexit as such. Still, this may lead to new containers being diverted to other ports, resulting in higher transport costs for the importer.
Current estimates of volumes available domestically are still pending, although traders do report that the demand from the retail remains high and constant across the board.
China: Export peak expected in March
The demand for Chinese pears currently comes mainly from Southeast Asia. During the Chinese New Year, exports nearly came to a halt, as most packing stations and other facilities are closed. The first export peak is expected from mid-March. In Europe, the first Chinese pears will only arrive in May.
In terms of logistics, the Chinese exporting sector is currently facing major challenges. The transport costs for sea containers remain high, and the same applies to domestic transport. Last season, the domestic production fell sharply, so prices are significantly higher than normal.
There is no information on the exact volumes in storage, but the prospect is that there will be enough in stock until mid-June. The Dutch Conference is gaining ground in the Chinese market. Due to the modest volumes on the Chinese market, the price is relatively high and the market share is minimal compared to that of the domestic production.