In the U.S. fresh pear industry, pre-ripened — or “conditioned” — fruit is critical to consumer acceptance.
There are currently 48 retailers in the U.S. and Canada on a conditioned pear program, which includes purchasing conditioned pears from shippers or conditioning themselves at their distribution centers, says Kevin Moffitt, president and CEO of the Milwaukie, Oregon-based Pear Bureau Northwest. Just eight years ago, only 35 retailers were selling conditioned pears. Six new retailers have come on board just this season.
It’s estimated, Moffitt says, that 20% to 25% of green anjou pears alone are being conditioned and sold in the U.S.
“We live in a ripe-and-ready, ‘want-it-now’ society,” Moffitt says. “This means many produce shoppers only buy fruit they can eat immediately or very soon after purchase.”
Half of pear buyers want to eat their pear within one or two days of purchase. Displaying conditioned pears, Moffitt says, helps meet that consumer need. Ripe pears are consumed at home sooner, leading to faster repeat sales and profits for retailers.
And it’s not that hard to get a program up and running, Moffitt says.
“It’s easier to condition pears than retailers think and the rewards for them are big. Research has shown that ripe pears can outsell unripe pears by 19.5%. In addition to the profit potential, a conditioned pear program also gives consumers what they want: sweet and juicy pears without having to wait.”
Once they try conditioned fruit, they’re far more likely to come back sooner for their next purchase, he adds. Additionally, conditioned pears have a more consistent flavor and texture, further delivering an enjoyable eating experience for consumers.
To condition pears, fruit is placed in a ripening room and warmed to room temperature and exposed to a concentration of ethylene and then cooled back down.
Conditioned pears that are cooled to 32F to 34F will stay firm throughout the storage and shipping process and won’t dramatically ripen further until placed back at room temperature, such as on a retail display. Conditioned pears can provide more consistent texture and flavor throughout the box or load, and conditioning can also enhance the sweet and juicy flavor pears are known for.
While the conditioning process has remained the same, Moffitt says, ripening rooms have evolved. The newest ripening rooms commissioned by shippers in the U.S. are built with specifications just for pears, meaning that fruit can be cooled to 32 degrees quickly after the ethylene process. That extends shelf life and allows for transportation across long distances without the fruit softening dramatically.
Banana and avocado ripening rooms, by contrast, generally are not built to cool down to that level after conditioning, as those temperatures can harm those fruits.
Mango ripening help for retailers
The Orlando, Florida-based U.S. Mango Board’s Ripe and Ready to Eat program provides retailers with a marketing advantage to sell mangos by offering consumers fruit that’s ripe and ready to eat. Extensive consumer research demonstrates that ripe mangos have a higher acceptance with consumers, leading to higher sales.
The program enlists a ripening expert to design, implement and evaluate a ripening program for mangos. The ripening expert travels to retailers and other supply-chain partners to determine their ripening capabilities and assess all the technical factors that can affect the success of the program. The expert also audits mango in-store displays and storage rooms to provide helpful insights and suggestions to improve ripening.
Audits include: display temperatures, mango quality (internal and external), size of the displays, items stored with mangos, hazards that could affect mango quality, backroom temperatures, rotation system, staff knowledge, and more. Following these audits, the ripening expert works closely with quality control personnel to test mangos and create a pre-conditioning and ripening practical protocol that will deliver a ripe mango to consumers. The expert also assesses the impact of the program on mango sales and volume at the retail and importer level.