Hadley Date Gardens Inc. in Thermal, CA, which markets an assortment of date products in a variety of pack styles, rolled out the first of its square retail tubs “a couple of years ago,” and they are “starting to get a little more attraction now in the market,” Albert Keck, president of the company, said in an interview with The Produce News Aug. 31.
With the 2011 date harvest just getting underway, the square tubs “will be out there on the end caps of produce sections pretty soon,” he said. “This is a beautiful package. It really shows off the quality nicely.”
The label on the square tubs, as on the company’s other retail pack styles such as round tubs, cups and overwrapped trays, is “Hadley’s.” The dates are “grown and packed by us,” he said.
The company offers Medjool, Deglet Noor and Zahidi varieties. The product line includes whole fresh dates, pitted dates, date nuggets and date coconut rolls.
“Our packaging is looking sharp, and I think the popularity that dates are gaining in the marketplace with consumers is exciting,” Mr. Hadley said. “We just continue to strive to provide a healthy, attractive, high-quality product to customers.”
The industry has been promoting the health benefits of dates, he said, noting that “we are this year licensed to have the American Heart Association logo on our label.”
Dates “are continuing to find good favor with customers,” Mr. Keck said. Because of their health benefits, “they are becoming more widely known and accepted.”
With the harvest nearly ready to start on Medjools and still six weeks away on Delget Noors, the new crop was looking good, he said, but there had been some uncertainty earlier in the season. The year started out “very strange” with regard to weather. “It was very cool early on, and I was worried that we didn’t have pollination. I was worried the bunches weren’t going to develop. But they filled out. they look good.”
But with dates, weather during “the final stage” before harvest “is really critical” to proper ripening. “It is hard to tell. You do everything you know how to do, as best you can, and it is all pretty much up-front costs. In the end, it really comes down to that final push” and how the weather is during the ripening phase. “We are in that window right now, waiting to see how things come along here in the next six weeks or so.”
Ideally, he said, he would love to see daytime high temperatures around 100 to 105 degrees “this time of year,” with moderately cool nights. If it is too cool, the fruit may not ripen. If it is too hot, “it doesn’t destroy the crop, but it can affect the ratio of number one grade,” he said. Rain at harvest time can also be a concern.
“We are going into a bit of a heat wave right now,” with the high temperature a few days earlier climbing to 115 degrees and a forecast that “we might get the same the second week in September. We don’t like high heat going into the ripening.” But all that could be done was to put lots of water on the trees and “see what happens,” he said.
Mr. Keck was expecting to see “a pretty good yield” with better overall production than last year, largely due to new orchards just coming into production. The total annual volume for the industry should continue to grow over the next five years or so “as more orchards come on line,” he said.