Saudi dates a healthy investment
Since dates are an integral item on the iftar menu during Ramadan, I will be exploring new avenues to create value to the Saudi date industry. These avenues include advertising, promotions, branding, and using dates to make a wide range of value-added products.
Dates are widely produced in Saudi Arabia, and represent a rich source of sugar, fiber and phenolic antioxidants, which could provide an opportunity to improve people’s health and support economic development.
But unfortunately, despite high production, dates are underutilized. More intensive research is required to add value and develop a sustainable industry. Many products such as vinegar, honey, jam, jelly, syrup, butter, candy, bars and confectionary could be prepared from dates.
Dates are widely available globally, but there is still room for improvement. It has been suggested that they could be used in certain food applications due to their high levels of fiber and antioxidants. Incorporating dates as an ingredient is a growing phenomenon.
But unfortunately, many excellent Saudi varieties are not well known overseas, as there is no internationally agreed system for their identification and classification. These include soft, semi-hard and hard types that can be used in different food applications.
Adequate advertising and promotions are crucial to reach consumers. Examples seen in restaurant chains include adding date products to menus as desserts. Proper branding is a must to achieve the required competitiveness. This includes suitable packaging and product information that highlights ingredients and nutritional value.
We can already see entrepreneurs who have succeeded in turning dates from a commodity to a high-quality premium brand. Examples include Dates Basket (DB) and Bateel. Creating a brand out of a commodity is one of the hardest branding exercises, as differentiation becomes difficult when similar products are available at a much lower price.
Therefore, developing a competitive supply chain (both market and agribusiness development) could provide a greater contribution to the Saudi economy if producers pay more attention to marketing this very important food commodity. Date production is no longer a way of life, but is nowadays considered an investment option and source of revenue for many stakeholders.
Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini is the Chairman and CEO of BMG Financial Group.