Demand for California medjool dates is growing across North America, Europe and Asia, according to the Bard, Calif.-based Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association, which grows more than 60% of the country’s medjools on 4,500 acres straddling Arizona and California.
The 2012-13 crop is projected to be as high as 15 million pounds, a 30% jump over 2011, with exceptional quality, said marketing director Dave Anderson.
The total U.S. medjool crop is expected to be about 20 million pounds, Anderson said.
To accommodate the larger crop, Datepac LLC, the packing plant owned by association members, has installed additional controlled-environment conditioning rooms at its location in Yuma, Ariz.
To extend its Natural Delights product line, Datepac is launching the industry’s first pitted medjool this fall and introducing a snack pack of dates and date rolls to attract new consumers and spur impulse purchases.
The products will be accompanied by a marketing campaign including extensive magazine and online ads, said president and chief executive officer Edward O’Malley.
Lorrie Cooper, executive director of the Indio-based California Date Administrative Committee and California Date Commission, said she’s seeing more individual packages of dates moving into the fresh produce section, along with 15-pound boxes of medjools displayed beside the bananas.
“Retailers are no longer putting dates in the dried fruit section at the back of a grocery shelf,” Cooper said.
Medjools and deglet noors, a favorite for baking and processing, are just two of 33 date varieties grown in California.
“Growers tell us within the next couple of years we’ll be looking at more than 50 million pounds of dates annually,” Cooper said.
Miranda Ackerman, marketing director of Vacaville, Calif.-based Mariani Packing Co., said pitted date sales are expanding out of the traditional holiday baking months of November to January.
Dates are also a favorite during the Ramadan holiday, she said.
Cooper said Ramadan’s early arrival this year “just about wiped out our inventory from last year.”
The natural sugar in dates is also attracting the attention of processors, Cooper said.
“There’s been a large uptick in requests for date paste, date sugar and chopped dates.”