With no stocks of Conference remaining due to last summer’s heat, Belgian pear producers are cautiously confident ahead of the start of the new season

The impact of last summer’s record heat in Europe continues to be felt in the world of pears, but this time to the benefit of growers. Stocks of last year’s heat-affected crop had all gone a whole month before harvesting was due to start on the new crop. Meanwhile, Southern Hemisphere volumes are mercifully low, giving European growers hope that the new season might bring improved prices.

Belgian Conference pear

“The end of the last season was beyond anything we’d seen before,” says Tony Derwael, CEO of Belgian exporter Bel’Export, “with demand so high for small fruit sizes, and pears under 55mm selling at over €1.”

Marc Evrard of Belgian Fruit Valley says it’s encouraging to see the market uninhibited by higher prices for Conference pears. “Appreciation of the Conference is growing all over Europe, but also outside,” he says. “We still need to maintain our efforts as far as marketing and promotions are concerned. That’s something we’ll be focusing on.”

Evrard says he expects the Belgian Conference crop to be larger than last year’s by 10-25 per cent, depending on the region. “It’s still early days,” he says, “but the trend we’re seeing in pear production is clear, with southern Europe losing out to Belgium and Holland, who manage to have a consistently high quality crop grown in a sustainable way and averaging rather good yields year after year. Of course we’re all facing issues with the climate in Europe, but the way these weather conditions are manifesting themselves in southern Europe is a bit more severe than we’re seeing in Belgium and Holland.”

“As far as pear production in Europe is concerned, if we look at profitability, quality, reliability, and consistency, Belgium, together with the southern parts of Holland, is increasingly becoming the benchmark for exports outside of Europe as well as internally in Europe.”

In Asia, China is the main market for Belgian Conference pears. This autumn, Flanders Agricultural Marketing Board (VLAM) will launch the ‘Taste of Europe China’ campaign in the country. “This point-of-sale campaign is a powerful tool to promote Belgian Conference pears in Chinese retail, both physically and digitally,” says VLAM’s Hartwig Moyaert. “By combining in-store tastings and displays, digital platforms and influencer collaborations, retailers can captivate consumers, generate product awareness, and increase sales. By leveraging the power of both offline and online channels, retailers can charm shoppers and create a buzz around these delectable fruits.”

Belgian Fruit Valley also sends smaller volumes to Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam, according to Evrard. “We’re planning our next promotion in India for the coming season with major retailers there,” he says. “We had hoped to expand even more over the last few years, but because of the Covid-related fallout, we mainly consolidated in our existing markets. This wasn’t so bad considering the lockdowns, closure of shops, transport issues, lack of tasting opportunities or face to face meetings. Even online sales were an issue as those doing the deliveries were also in lockdown. So there were quite substantial challenges.”

According to Derwael, good prices are also expected for the first part of the Corina campaign, Belgium’s summer pear, which usually runs from mid-August until mid-September, due to the lack of leftover Conference on the market.