In terms of the product’s shape as well as global trade volumes, pears and avocados are pretty similar. But that is where the comparison ends. While global pear production volumes are almost three times that of avocados, avocados seem to have the X factor, considering their boom in production and consumption, media coverage, and even the number of hits on Google. The global pear market is rather stagnant, and pear producers face multiple challenges, including climate change, labor issues, cost increases, and a lack of consumer excitement. At the recent Interpera pear congress held in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the international pear sector discussed how to remain positive in such a challenging environment.
Many new and existing challenges
Despite the positive vibe among participants to see each other again after such a long time, dark clouds were hovering over the Interpera venue in Rotterdam. The pear sector has to navigate through turbulent times. Some challenges have been around for some time, such as the stagnant market. Other challenges, including skyrocketing costs, have just gotten worse and worse in the last two years.
High input costs, climate change, and labor are among the key concerns for pear growers
At the grower level, increasing costs for nearly all farm inputs, including fertilizers, crop protection products, and diesel, present huge challenges. On top of that, labor availability and stricter government or retail demands on crop protection products are key concerns. Crop protection is becoming even more of an issue now climate change seems to be increasing the risk of pests and diseases. At the Interpera congress, climate change was cited by some of the speakers as one of the causes of the sharp decline in Italian pear production. Last year’s Rabobank study on the Dutch pear and apple sector showed that the average profitability of growers located in regions with irrigation water shortages is significantly lower than the profitability of growers located in regions with sufficient irrigation water. Irrigation water is essential to cope with weather events like late spring frost and drought.
Pears are slow food in terms of market growth
For importers, exporters, and distributors of pears, the skyrocketing costs of freight, cardboard boxes, and many other essentials are hampering trade. Therefore, several experts who spoke at Interpera, including myself, agreed on the conclusion that international trade is likely to further decrease this year and next. Global production, consumption, and trade of pears have been in a phase of stagnation for many years (see Figure 1). Major markets, including the EU, Russia, Brazil, and the US, show declining imports (see Figures 2 and 3). The only exception is Indonesia, which has substantially increased pear imports, mainly sourced from China.
Within the stagnant EU market, the Netherlands and Belgium gained market share by taking advantage of decreasing pear production in Italy. For southern hemisphere exporters, prospects in the European market will deteriorate, given high logistics costs and limited pear appetite among European consumers. The current inflationary environment may further worsen consumer appetite, though it is not yet clear what effect a tighter consumer budget will have on pear consumption. One of the Italian speakers claimed that Italian pears have a firm fan base among consumers, whose appetite for pears is hardly affected by income or price changes. Some of the research papers I have come across on this topic claim that pear consumption is strongly influenced by the prices of other competing fruits. So we simply do not know what the safe answer is to the question of what will happen to pear consumption in the current inflationary economic environment.
Maintain a healthy perspective
As with many other fruits, there are plenty of good stories to tell about pears, particularly on their health attributes and sustainability. But the industry is simply not doing enough telling, or not telling these stories the right way. That was one of the main takeaways of the Interpera event. An Ecochain study that I showcased in my presentation at the event shows that the carbon footprint of locally grown pears is extremely low compared to apples and oranges. A representative from a supermarket discussed the possibilities for creating ‘new’ eating occasions for pears, such as breakfast. New, truly distinctive varieties could also create more buzz in the pear category. Other initiatives discussed by representatives of the pear industry included consolidation of pear supply to better match supply and demand, quality improvement, and the introduction of brands.