Bridges Organic Produce's Maureen Royal and Joe Stepka Discuss Import Pear Season Challenges

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Thu. February 3rd, 2022 - by Jenna Plasterer

PORTLAND,OR - For everyone around the world, the past two years have been a rollercoaster of challenges that have forced many of us back to the drawing board to come up with solutions. As some of these hurdles persist and new ones take shape, Bridges Organic Produce is remaining transparent as its import pear season gets ready to kick off, sharing with the buy-side what they can expect as the supply-side faces rising costs, transportation barriers, and tight volumes.

Maureen Royal, Sales and Marketing, Bridges Organic Produce“We are currently focusing on maintaining strong market pricing for our product, as it will allow us to support farmers so they can continue to grow and supply us in future seasons,” explains Maureen Royal, Sales and Marketing. “A shortage of trucks and increased transportation costs are expected to be one of the biggest challenges this season. Ocean freight arriving later than anticipated and ports being backed up is also expected to remain a serious issue.”

Bridges will begin its import pear program in mid-to-late February with early Bartlett pears. However, the season is shaping up to be anything but ordinary for suppliers, with costs steeply increasing across the board. As Joe Stepka, Sales and Marketing, elaborates, ocean freight alone has risen almost 50 percent, with other input, storage, and handling costs that growers incur also being elevated. Overall, this is leading to historically high fixed costs.

Joe Stepka, Sales and Marketing, Bridges Organic Produce“We simply need to keep pricing at a level that provides a decent return to the growers,” says Joe. “Our customers and their sales teams should prepare for higher FOB and freight costs that need to be factored in at wholesale and retail to ensure operating margins remain intact while generating a grower return that will help us keep our fair share of the product heading to the U.S. market. If we are not able to do this, product will be diverted to markets willing to pay more sustainable prices this year, and in future seasons.”

In addition to the transportation costs rising, tight supplies both domestically and within the import crops will be pushing up market prices. This is due to frost and hail damage, which could cause a projected 20–30 percent reduction in import pear varieties such as Bartlett and Aut Bartlett. Yields for other popular varieties, like Anjou and Bosc, have yet to be determined.

As rising costs, transportation barriers, and tight volumes have created challenges for the import season, Bridges Organic Produce is working to maintain strong market pricing to provide returns for growers

Down the line, Bridges is anticipating strong demand from the European market for small and processing grade fruit, further driving the price of what would typically be lower-cost products in the category up.

Despite these issues, there is an upside this season: good quality, Maureen tells me on a positive note.

“We anticipate great quality pears out of Argentina,” Joe adds to Maureen’s information. “Demand should be strong; we are excited for what should be a busy spring and summer for organic pears.”

Despite ongoing challenges, Bridges is anticipating good quality across its import pears this season

This import season, most of the Bridges fruit will ship to the East Coast, as West Coast ports are experiencing larger delays. As of now, the company is expecting its early Bartletts to arrive in mid-to-late February with red and green Bartletts coming in mid-March to mid-April. Later in the season, Bosc, Anjou, Red Anjou, and Abate Fetel will become available.

Although these challenges can be overwhelming, Maureen adds one final thought, stressing the importance of coming together to support the supply-side.

Bridges Organic Produce expects its import pear program to begin in mid-to-late February with early Bartlett pears, followed later in the season by red and green Bartletts, Bosc, Anjou, Red Anjou, and Abate Fetel varieties

“We hope to communicate to buyers the need to build and support a stronger market price throughout the supply chain to keep import programs viable for all. It is vital to support all of the growers, farms, and jobs that these programs represent,” she imparts.

While what lies ahead could look daunting, the resilience and ingenuity of the produce industry make it a worthy opponent of any challenge that surfaces. And with companies like Bridges Organic Produce providing transparency, we can all come together to weather the storm.

Bridges Organic Produce