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California Date Commission primed to invest in promotions

By
Keith Loria

The 2022 date season experienced something of a curveball according to Albert Keck, chairman of the California Date Commission.

“Tropical Storm Kay came up the coast of California and made a beeline right into southeastern California, so it effected things,” he said. “It was a strange year. We had a lot of storms throughout the season, all the way through Yuma and the Coachella Valley, so we’ve had to deal with the effects of that.” 

For that reason, it’s still unclear what the outcome is going to be, as Keck noted there’s currently a lot more cleaning up of the harvest in the field taking place, and that leads to added cost and some yield reduction associated with that. 

“I imagine we might see a 20 percent reduction in yield, and associated costs to clean things up, so it’s not fun,” Keck said. “I think we’ve got our positions covered adequately enough as to not have any disruptions, which is good. But that’s farming. It’s not something we haven’t dealt with before and nothing we can’t get through.” 

As a category, dates are doing well overall, with many consumers drawn to the superfood as people are becoming much more conscious about what they eat. 

“There’s increasing per-capita consumption across the board,” Keck said. “They fit a lot of real popular profiles in our evolving diet. The American consumer is drawn to healthy food and also novel food; dates are still considered a novelty amongst many people, plus they are delicious.”

Dates have the endorsement of the American Heart Association and the California Date Commission will be pursuing that aspect of promotion more in the year ahead, ramping up on the messaging of dates being part of an active lifestyle. 

“We have one of the major tennis tournaments here in Indian Wells and you see the athletes there consuming dates during the matches,” Keck said. “Our outlook is very positive looking into the future.”  

One challenge to California dates is there is a lot of import competition and it’s sometimes frustrating as domestic growers because they have added costs due to government regulations and often the market doesn’t value that. 

“We’re hoping there may be more of an appreciation for domestically grown produce and that it picks up steam in our culture,” Keck said. “We don’t really want government subsidies but it’s a concern across the entire produce spectrum.” 

The California Date Commission has several things planned that will hopefully help date growers.

“We have a lot of things cooking,” Keck said. “We passed a strong budget at our June meeting for both research and promotion so we’re really primed to invest in the fruit. We know we have to deliver a product that the customer desires.” 

That includes reaching out to some cooperatives and universities for research and bolstering the promotions.

“We have a lot of enthusiasm on the board and that’s really exciting,” Keck said. “We’re just getting into our new fiscal year and I’m really excited about what’s going on.”

The California date industry does something around 70-80 million pounds a year, and total U.S. figures are approximately 100 million pounds. 

“It’s grown quite a bit; we’re probably double what we were 40 years ago,” Keck said. “On top of that, I think the U.S. market is even more than that because of the imports coming in. It’s definitely a rising category.”
 

Keith Loria

Keith Loria

About Keith Loria  |  email

A graduate of the University of Miami, Keith Loria is a D.C.-based award-winning journalist who has been writing for major publications for close to 20 years on topics as diverse as real estate, food and sports. He started his career with the Associated Press and has held high editorial positions at magazines aimed at healthcare, sports and technology. When not busy writing, he can be found enjoying time with his wife, Patricia, and two daughters, Jordan and Cassidy.

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