SunDate brings the dates all year long
Over the last 15 to 20 years, dates have become a fruit that people want year-round, while in the past, they were purchased during holidays. That growing demand for dates has kept the people at SunDate busy as the company provides dates for consumers 12 months a year.
“They used to be primarily a seasonal, traditional western holiday item,” said DJ Ryan, sales and operations manager, for SunDate, which is headquartered in Coachella, CA, and is one of the largest growers-packers-shippers of California dates in the United States. “You’d see them at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Passover, but over the last 20 years they’ve become more of a year-round item, particularly the last 10 years or so, with people looking for healthy sources for sugar.”
Dates are a popular alternative to corn syrup because they aren’t processed, are sweet and have a fairly neutral flavor profile. That makes them ideal for baking, but they are also popular as snacks and are used in salads and various recipes. The dates found in the produce section are of the Medjool variety.
“What used to be something that was limited to sales starting around Thanksgiving, and which in the past we’d want to be out of the crop no later than Easter and Passover because there wasn’t demand in summer and fall, has morphed into a year-round item,” Ryan said.
Ramadan has also been a big factor in the popularity of dates. The holiday moves up in our calendar each year by about 10 days to two weeks, and about 15 or 20 years ago, it coincided with western holidays. In 2023, it will begin in late March.
“It was hard to identify it as its own marker for increased demand,” he said. “When Ramadan moved out of the January-December-November range, we realized what a huge marketing opportunity it was for us. That has fueled this year-round demand and the religious aspect coupled with the trend with health eating has played a big role in increasing exposure and turning dates into a 12-month operation.”
Ryan said the Medjool season starts in late August and runs into mid- or late-October, while the Deglet Noor harvest starts in early October and runs through the first part of December. This year’s crops are showing a lot of promise.
“The Medjool crop is a little heavier than normal, which is good,” he said. “The quality we’ve seen so far is exceptional, so we’re really excited about the Medjool crop. The Deglet Noor crop seems a little lighter than normal, but the quality is good, so we’re equally excited about that crop.”
SunDate is focused on organic dates as well as conventionally grown dates.
SunDate grows dates in the Coachella Valley, which Ryan said is ideal because of the region’s hot temperatures (as high as 120 degrees in the summer), underground water from the Colorado River, and because it doesn’t get a lot of rain. Still, he said growing dates is a long-term process because it can take seven years before trees start to produce fruit.
“The company has been very aggressively planting both varieties of dates, Medjool and Deglet Noors, for the last 15-20 years,” Ryan said. “That’s one reason we’ve grown to the size we have. Each year, we have younger plantings that are coming into production for the first time and we also have date gardens that are entering their second, third, fourth and fifth years of production, where we start to see peaks. The seventh year is when the first real appreciable volume comes off the tree, but over the next seven or eight years on top of that, each crop will be a little bigger as each tree matures.