Trial production of the concept pear Migo has got underway in Kent, with commercial volume, albeit limited, expected to be available in two years’ time. Following a successful debut on the European Continent in 2015/16, test plantings of the club variety have widened to a number of European nations already, and shortly North America too.
In an interview with Produce Business UK, Urs Luder, CEO of GKE, which licenses and markets the Migo pear in addition to the club apples Kanzi and Greenstar, explains that two progressive UK producers have taken on the chance to test the variety.
“We are now in an advanced testing stage on a commercial scale and there is no doubt that we can produce Migo pears in the UK,” Luder reveals.
“No licenses have been given yet in the UK, only testing licenses. The growers want to keep their options open; they want to see if it works or not for them.”
Luder says the two growers are forward-looking parties that are known to the industry and benefit from a lot of capability. The first orchards were planted three months ago in Canterbury, Kent – a traditional fruit-growing area in the UK.
While Migo will inevitably compete with other UK-grown pears, for many growers Luder expects the variety will take the place of certain, older varieties or possibly replace some apple orchards.
UK-grown Migo will be harvested around mid September before being stored to allow the final flavours to mature, after which volume will become available +/- 1 November with the potential for a “very long” supply window, according to Luder.
The first commercial volume is expected to be presented to retailers in two to three years’ time.
Luder says the UK is a very clear target for the Migo pear. “It’s one of the key markets,” he explains. “It will be a pear that is locally-produced but like other apples and pears it will be complemented by imports from the Continent.”
UK retailers have already expressed their interest in Migo after testing samples grown in Europe.
“They will start by taking Migo pears grown on the Continent,” Luder adds.
“UK production will be for domestic consumption only, but it will not be enough to satisfy the market’s future needs.”
At this point in time GKE has not put an upper limitation on production in the UK. “Firstly, we have to see how the tree behaves, how the fruit turns out and how successfully the growers can produce Migo because getting a good pack-out is just as important,” Luder notes.
“Migo has very good storage capabilities but we don’t yet know about the storage performance of the UK-grown fruit,” he continues. “We don’t expect to have any problems because we can make comparisons with other pears. But you never know, there are always surprises.”
Added value for growers, retailers and consumers
That said, so far Migo has attracted much attention. Because it’s a managed variety and only the fruit which meets the Migo standard can be sold as Migo, the pear offers a number of advantages for producers, retailers and consumers alike.
For the grower, a managed variety is designed to ensure a reasonable return year after year, notwithstanding the usual grower risks, such as the weather etc.
“That means if they deliver Migo they should always receive a good price,” Luder adds. “And because the grower sells into an established channel, supported by marketing, their price and income is more stable.”
For retailers, the advantage is they receive the same quality fruit whether they buy from grower A, B, C or D because a Migo is a Migo.
“The retailers don’t have to go out looking for the best,” Luder claims. “Plus we help with the marketing because we organise the promotional programmes and brand development.”
The benefit for consumers follows the same principle of quality – they know what they are getting when they buy a Migo pear.
“It’s the same as buying other branded products – it’s all about consistency,” says Luder. “If a consumer buys a bag of commodity fruit, three out of the five may be not so good. But when he/she buys a brand they get the same.”
As for pricing, Migo is purposely not being priced at a premium because it’s not a niche product, according to Luder. “It’s priced for the value which this pear has,” he says. “It will be a volume pear.”
Answering consumer needs
Migo is a concept pear that was bred on the back of consumer research that determined a snacking pear with a longer shelf-life and less mess was needed. It’s described as a green pear with smooth skin, almost no russeting and firm flesh.
“It’s a pear for consumers who like a crunchy pear but not a ‘buttery soft’ or messy pear,” Luder clarifies. “Unlike a Conference or Comice pear – which taste excellent but can get very messy – Migo has the sweet flavour but its flesh stays firm, even in the latter stages of maturity.
“Increasingly consumers, especially younger people, don’t like the russeting [on pear skin] as it can taste a bit sandy,” continues Luder. “But they don’t want to peel a pear and eat it with knife and fork either.”
After conducting years of research to analyse both pear aficionados and pear haters GKE came up with Migo the “friendly” pear.
Designed to be eaten on-the-go thanks to its long shelf-life, sweet and refreshing taste, firm bite and no drip, the variety fits the UK consumer profile “perfectly”, according to Luder.
“I remember the consumer research interviews in the UK very well,” he recalls. “We did them in London; talking to people from all kinds of social backgrounds and occupations etc.
“Those who commute a lot said the Migo pear is ideal because they can put it in their laptop bag and it doesn’t get messy because it’s firm enough. They noted how they could can eat it on the Tube or waiting in line anywhere. The feedback from Londoners was that Migo is the ideal travel pear.”
Expanding production globally
Migo is grown exclusively by partner producers licensed by GKE, a subsidiary of European Fruit Cooperation (EFC). Sales began in 2015/16 and volume is on the up.
To date, three grower organisations produce the club variety in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. But with testing now widespread in Europe that figure is set to increase.
“Testing is underway in many other countries, including France, Austria, many areas of Germany, Switzerland, and now the UK,” Luder informs. “Next season we are even testing Migo in North America.”
According to Luder, the US market is eager to renew its pear landscape due to the age of its planted varieties.
“They are OK but basically everyone is looking for new varieties which work, and for whatever reason those varieties have not materialised,” claims Luder. “There is quite some interest from grower organisations (grower-packer-shippers) in the US. But we have no idea if it will work, or if it will produce the right characteristics.”
Having just completed the quarantine process to bring the graft work into the US, Luder points out it will be a very long process.
“The first trees will go in the ground in Washington State next winter, and later in Oregon and maybe northern California. Then we will have to wait and see if it works, and whether the consumer will appreciate the pear. I think they will because we know the US consumer likes a green pear with flavour.”