Dates are beginning to be seen as a snack item, said Erin Hanagan, marketing manager for DatePac LLC, Yuma, Ariz.
“Dates are a great snacking option,” she said.
This follows the consumer trend of turning toward fruit as a snacking option. Now, date suppliers are trying to take advantage of the opportunity.
“To present ourselves to consumers in that mindset, we’ve developed new packaging for our snack pack,” Hanagan said.
The company offers a snack pack option for consumers.
The packs range from 3.3 ounces to 4.4 ounces, depending on the content. Pitted medjools, whole medjools, almond date rolls and coconut date rolls are all available in this option, Hanagan said.
Despite being promoted as a snack item, Hanagan said the packs aren’t meant to be single servings.
“It’s a snacking option — a small bag that can sit on the counter or in the cupboard so you can easily grab a date,” she said.
The new snack pack packages can be displayed in caddie trays. In addition to being convenient, dates are healthful.
“It’s a healthy alternative to grabbing chips or a candy bar for a snack,” Hanagan said.
Ben Antongiovanni, sales manager for Atlas Produce and Distribution, Bakersfield, Calif., said dates are gaining popularity as a health food item.
He suggest promoting dates as an alternative to energy bars.
“If you eat two dates, it’s the same burst of energy and it’s all natural,” he said.
In fact, dates are a common ingredient in many power bars, Antongiovanni said.
“A lot of people are eating dates already and don’t even know it because the basic ingredient of a lot of energy bars is dates, among other added ingredients,” he said.
Lorrie Cooper, manager of California Date Administrative Committee and the California Date Commission, Indio, Calif., agrees with this nutrition bar trend.
“The date industry has seen an increase in the use of dates in fruit and power bars over the last few years,” she said.
Cooper expects the demand for dates to continue to increase with a focus on dates as ingredients, both in processed and fresh recipes.
“With a focus on healthier eating, we see this trend continuing to include dates as the natural sweetener to get away from the processed sugars as an ingredient,” Cooper said.
She cites nutrition as a strong pull for consumers to purchase dates.
“As a heart healthy fruit, dates bring to the daily diet healthy nutrients that include a good source of fiber, potassium, antioxidant polyphenols and minerals,” she said.
Date use in restaurants and foodservice applications has also been affected by the trend for healthier ingredients and alternatives to sugar.
“We have seen an increase of using dates on restaurant menus in the last several years. With an emphasis on healthier meals, chefs are using dates as the sweetener alternative in their dishes,” Cooper said.
Marketers hope these health attributes will help promote dates to the younger generation of Americans.
“Traditionally, the big consumers of dates have been ethnic groups such as the Middle Eastern, Italian and Jewish communities, but we’re trying to get them out more to the mainstream, younger American culture,” Antongiovanni said.