California’s medjool date crop this year was exceptional, said David Baxter, brand manager for the Bard Valley Date Growers Association, which markets the Natural Delights brand. “Our crop this year was one of our best harvests in the past 10 years in terms of quality and volume of the fruit,” he says. “The quality was super high.” ( Courtesy Bard Valley Date Growers Association )

As consumers — from millennials to baby boomers — adopt new healthy eating goals, sales of dates, prunes and dried fruit are gathering momentum.

Suppliers say more consumers than ever are discovering the health benefits of dates.

“Business has been fantastic as the velocity of our sales steadily climb by double digits year over year,” said Luke Fountain, sales representative for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Atlas Produce and Distribution Inc.

“Our business aside, the entire category has been growing at the consumer level, which is good for everyone in the industry,” he said.

Dates are an “undiscovered product” that more and more consumers are learning about, said Tony Somohano, director of wholesale sales for Woodspur Farms LLC, Coachella, Calif.

Woodspur Farms is the largest certified organic date farm in the U.S., according to Somohano, with about 3,000 acres of organic dates.

Dates are largely eaten as a snack, but they also have a significant role as a sweet, healthful ingredient at home and in industrial food manufacturing, where they’re used for date paste, diced dates, coconut rolls, syrup, powders and as a replacement for artificial sweeteners.

“None of the crop goes to waste,” Somohano said. “We even sell the pits.”

This year’s date crop is of very good quality, said DJ Ryan, sales and operations manager for Sun Date in Coachella.

“We’re very happy with it,” he said. “We had ideal weather conditions this summer.”

Organic seems to be a trend in the date category.

“More date gardens are transitioning to organic,” Ryan said.

The two most popular date varieties are the large, plump medjool and the smaller, semi-dry deglet noor, which is commonly sold packaged and pitted in supermarkets.

Woodspur offers about a dozen varieties, which are harvested at various times from late August until early November, Somohano said.

“We had a super quality crop this year,” he said, which was about 6% larger than last year’s.

The company does a lot of private-label packaging for major retailers, he said.

Atlas Produce offers California-grown organic and conventionally grown date products under its Fresh Energy brand, Fountain said.

Dates are a good export item, Ryan added.

Sun Date’s export destinations include Australia, Southeast Asia, Europe, the United Kingdom and South America.

Many high-quality medjools even are exported to Middle Eastern destinations like Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.

Prunes, known as dried plums before switching back to their original name last year, are another consumer favorite.

California, where about 99% of domestic prunes are grown, had a “very good crop” this year, said Donn Zea, executive director of the Roseville-based California Prune Board.

“We did plenty of pre-harvest thinning,” he said. 

“That ensures that we will have the kind of prunes people expect from California — larger, sweeter prunes.”

There will be a good range of sizes this year that will be “well distributed in the larger sizes” that consumers prefer.

About 45% of California’s prunes will be exported this year, with Japan the major market and about one-third of the exports going to Europe, especially northern Italy.

“The prune crop has been strong in California with the wet weather and good blooming temperature,” said Stephanie Harralson, director of marketing, North America, for Yuba City, Calif.-based Sunsweet Growers Inc.

“Prune plums are harvested in August, but prunes are a year-round product, perfect for healthy snacking,” Harralson said.

Sunsweet offers Sunsweet Amaz!n Prunes, prune juice, PlumSweets chocolate coated prunes, dates, dried apricots, dried cherries, dried mango, dried pineapple, raisins and dried cranberries. 

Traina Foods Inc., Patterson, Calif., sells bulk dried fruit, including cherries, apricots, peaches, dates, figs, pears and cranberries, some of which are organically grown, said president Willie Traina.

The company’s Fruitons line features sun-dried fruits in various blends meant to be added to salads, soups and breakfast items.

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