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SunDate expecting strong Medjool date season

By
Keith Loria

As one of California’s largest Medjool and Deglet Noor date grower, SunDate controls all aspects of production, from pollination to harvest, from grading to packaging, and from sales to shipping.

This enables the Coachella, CA-based company to guarantee quality and supply, assuring that only the finest California dates carry the SunDate label, while providing customers with consistent supply all year long. 

With the 2021 harvest under way, things are looking as solid as ever.

“We’re finishing up harvest of Medjools in the next two weeks, and the numbers are up over last year,” said DJ Ryan, sales and operations manager for SunDate. “We’re very happy right now with the quality. It looks like a very strong season from end to end. We’ve very happy.”

This year, SunDate’s percentage of organics is increasing, with its highest totals to date.

“There’s a lot of demand for organics and we’ve driven that demand by being more aggressive, both for the planning and transitioning traditional date gardens to organic,” Ryan said.

SunDate has a partnership with Anthony Vineyards, a large organic table grape grower. Anthony’s expertise has helped SunDate expand in organics over the last dozen years.

“Each year, we see our organics tick up a little bit,” Ryan said. “This year, we will probably be close to 70 percent organic. We may not market all the fruit as organic; sometimes it ends up going out as conventional, but we are very bullish on the organic business and see a lot of growth in that area.”

As for the Deglet Noor crop, which are the smaller dates and used more for industrial and the pitted dates that end up on grocery shelves, that harvest started in mid-October and will finish in mid-December. It is expected to be similar to last year’s fine crop.

“We’re pretty happy there as well,” Ryan said. “Growing conditions were good. We didn’t have any big events with rain or anything that can cause issues.”

Since the pandemic, SunDate saw an uptick in demand on Medjools dates, as a lot of people were spending more time in their kitchens and looking for unique foods to prepare. However, on the Deglet Noor side, the company saw the industrial business fall a bit.

Ryan noted he’s seen a larger awareness of Medjools over the last few years, with it no longer being a product just bought around the Western holidays.

“We’re starting to see that awareness from a foodie standpoint; dates are featured in a lot of food shows,” he said. “Still, we’re on the very low end of market penetration. A lot of people in the country have still never tried a Medjools date. But as those numbers grow, the people are coming back for more.”

A big part of SunDate’s domestic business are the club stores, which do a great job of moving volume and exposing the product to those who may not be a traditional date buyer.

“I think the club store buyer is more likely to take a chance on something than in retail,” Ryan said. “We are also seeing a lot more use of displays around holidays and that’s helped a lot. We’ve found that once people try our dates, they become repeat consumers.”

Demand around Ramadan has always been a big time for date sales. In 2022, the holiday takes place at the beginning of April and lasts until the beginning of May.

“We are still exhibiting double-digit growth, but the challenge is making sure we have supply to keep up with that growth,” Ryan said. “We focus on dates and do it well and we’re really proud of our product and we’re eager to get new business.

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