While fresh organic dates are available year round, promotion of them in the United States tends to center around the Thanksgiving to Christmas time period, and then again during the month-long Ramadan celebration, in May and June of 2018.
The organic date crop is harvested primarily in the late summer/early fall and sold from storage the rest of the year. Organic dates, which are very low in moisture content, are frozen for storage then thawed for shipment and sold in produce departments as fresh dates. Typically the Medjool variety is sold fresh while the Deglet Noor variety is used by processors in the making of many products such as trail mixes, granola bars and other healthy snacks.
Dates are a crop that has embraced organic growing methods and offer many opportunities for retail promotion during the holiday season. The Medjool harvest is complete and there is an excellent crop of fruit currently being sold. Last year, the Coachella Valley produced more than 31,000 tons of dates, which represented about 95 percent of the U.S. production.
DF Ryan, who handles sales and operations for SunDate LLC, Coachella, CA, and said dates is one of the few crops in which organic supply is actually outgrowing demand. Ryan noted that it is relatively easy to transition dates from conventional production to organic certification because even conventional growing methods are mostly pesticide free. Under normal cultural conditions, netting rather than pesticides are used to keep the dates protected from pests.
Dates grow in the top of the date palm, typically 20-40 feet off the ground. While pest pressure is reduced at that elevation, Ryan said the biggest change is a grower must use organic fertilizers and herbicides.
SunDate is a partnership between Anthony Vineyards, which is one of the larger organic grape growers in the country, and Chuchian Ranch, a longtime Coachella Valley date grower. Anthony Vineyards expertise in organic grape production has been utilized in transitioning much of its date acreage to organic production. Ryan said some of the firm’s organic dates, especially the Deglet Noor variety, are sold with no differentiation from the conventional market.
Sean Dougherty, vice president of operations for Hadley Date Gardens, Inc., Thermal, CA, has had a similar experience with organic dates. He said the company has increased its organic production over the past few years, reflecting increased demand for the product. He said fresh organic dates –the Medjool variety – do receive a premium though the amount of that markup varies, as determined by the overall date market.
Dougherty believes the total date category, which has had significant growth in the last decade, will continue to experience solid growth fueled by millennials.
“We do see an opportunity for continued growth, as household penetration of dates is still relatively low,” Dougherty said. He believes dates to be a natural fit for millennials, a demographic identified as strong devotees of organic and natural foods. Dates, for example, are a natural sweetener, used as a substitute for sugar in many recipes.
Dougherty said sales or organic dates have been increasing every year, and it appears the potential for further gains are significant as millennials mature and create their own families.
He added this is a great year for date promotions as the crop came through the harvest season with no weather related problems and produced outstanding supplies of high quality product.