Demand for fresh dates and date products spikes each year during the holiday period, but for date growers in the Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association, headquartered in Bard, CA, that spike is not as sharp as it once was, as demand for their product, marketed under the "Natural Delights" brand, has increased during non-holiday periods.
"Our business has indeed flattened out, and we are very happy about that" as "our volume outside of the holidays continues to increase," said Dave Anderson, marketing director for the association, whose growers (according to an Oct. 3 press release) supply more than 70 percent of the Medjool dates grown in the United States.
"The latest 13-week report shows our brand is up 40 percent with reporting supermarkets across the United States, both on volume and on dollars," Mr. Anderson told The Produce News Oct. 11. "The last 13 weeks, of course, is a non-holiday period, so we are very excited about what is happening with the brand."
That said, the holiday season remains the strongest demand period for dates, although "the spike is far greater on Deglets ... than it is on Medjools," Mr. Anderson observed.
"At the same time, we have developed a number of recipes, supporting holiday entertaining get-togethers, that are new this year," he continued. A newly launched web site, naturaldelights.com, has "in excess of 45 recipes, many of which are holiday entertaining themes." a great deal of work went into developing the web site. "I'm really proud of it."
Included on the web site are 15 videos featuring Matt Alleshouse, "executive chef for one of the Hilton properties in Hawaii," demonstrating how to prepare various recipes, Mr. Anderson said. "He did a really nice job with these 15 recipes, many of which he actually developed for us." One of them, for example, is a date popper, "which is pretty unique." The date is stuffed with cream cheese and chorizo, then battered and fried. That is definitely a holiday recipe but "not a health-and-wellness recipe by any means," he added, although many of the other featured recipes are.
"We think that our health message is getting out and people understand that from antioxidant polyphenol counts to our high potassium levels to fiber" Medjool dates have "a good health message." That message is "helping us develop an admittedly small" - as compared to some fruits - "but still enthusiastic consumer following," he said.
Social media response is an indication of that enthusiasm. "We are approaching 20,000 likes on Facebook, and the dialogue we have with those people is really amazing," Mr. Anderson said. "It has been an excellent way for us to better understand how people view our product."
The Bard Valley "Natural Delights" web site is not targeted at consumers only. "Part of that web site is trade-directed," he said. "There will be both a retail and a foodservice portal." There will also be a password-protected download center with almost 100 different images, ranging from product beauty shots to photos depicting the process of growing Medjool dates.
"One of the things we learned on Facebook is that a lot of people have absolutely ... no concept of how our products are grown, and they are very interested to learn," he said.
On the production side, Bard Valley's primary packinghouse, Datepac LLC, a grower-owned facility that packs about 80 percent of the Bard Valley crop, "has a new color sorter that we are running now," Mr. Anderson said. "We have new conditioning rooms that have come on line as well. Those two things guarantee the kind of quality, on a consistent level, that we are known for."
Datepac is not only one of the larger and more technologically up-to-date date packing facilities in the country, but it is also "equipped with all the food-safety bells and whistles" and employs "a full-time compliance manager" to oversee hygeine and food-safety procedures, he said.