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California Date Commission working to advance date industry

Interest levels for eating California dates from consumers has increased tremendously during the last 10 years, according to Lorrie Cooper, manager of the California Date Commission, based in Indio, CA.

“The increase in consumption is seen through whole dates and the use of processed dates in such products as bars, cereals, butters, etc.,” she said. “The inclusion of dates for ingredient use is becoming more prevalent. The volume of sales five years ago showed the breakdown between whole fruit and processed fruit was approximately a 60/40 percent split. Today the sales of whole fruit and processed date product is running at a 50/50 percent split. This trends with the increase of dates seen on labels of packaged food products hitting the marketplace in the last few years.”

Facetune 14-08-2019-07-25-24 The Date Commission sees competition remaining elevated between domestic date producers/sellers and imported date sellers with imports seeing elevated interest within the U.S. market.

“Growers are aware of increased volume from importers, and the domestic date industry itself works conscientiously to produce good quality dates to maintain a competitive edge against imports,” Cooper said. “Interest in California dates remains high among U.S. consumers.” 

Still, the date industry remains small compared to other commodities with less than 100 growers. The industry since its first production in 1920 with 280 acres will be 100 years old in 2020 and acreage has remained constant at around 8,000 acres since 2011 with older palms continuing to be removed and new offshoots replanted in their place. 

“The importation of foreign pests remains a concern for the industry,” Cooper said. “With the sighting of the Red Palm Weevil in Laguna Beach during 2010 and its cousin the South American Palm Weevil sighted in the San Diego region in August 2011, the industry is vigilant in the prevention of having these pests reach the Coachella Valley through the help of federal and state agencies working on an eradication process.”

The Date Commission spent the 2018 season revamping its marketing promotion program and the program this next season will include a big push into social media and the new addition of a chef ambassador.

Crop projections for the 2019 harvest season are projected to be about the same as the 2018 crop which topped 69 million. Historical harvest data shows there is a trend upward of harvest volume during the last 10 years of 39 percent increase and a 40 percent increase in date sales.

California Dates is also launching a multi-pronged outreach campaign with the goal of changing the perception of and conversation around California dates.

“Some of the industry’s concerns are  around peoples misconceptions and the misinformation about California dates,” Cooper said. “We are looking to challenge the traditional perception that dates are sweet fruits on your grandmother’s table and to clear up the confusion about nutritional value of California dates.”

To that end, the organization has partnered with celebrity chef Stuart O’Keeffe as the Ambassador to California dates to help spread this message.

“Chef Stu will be creating delicious recipes challenging the traditional perception that dates are associated with holidays or baking rather than a nutritious dry fruit that has many uses in salads, sauces and savory dishes,” Cooper said. “We will be creating a series of videos on how dates are grown/harvested and how to prepare new healthy dishes and cocktails with them.”