The 2012 harvest of Medjool dates in the Bard Valley of California is “significantly larger than last year, which was larger than the year before, so this growth curve we are on continues,” said David Anderson, marketing director for the Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association in Bard, CA, in an interview with The Produce News.
“I think when all is saidand done, you can figure that we are probably [at] 15 million pounds [of Medjool dates] this year of Bard. That is a little over a 20 percent increase from the year before.”
The reason that is happening, he said, is young groves planted over the past few years and now coming into production are producing more fruit each year. Growers are now “not really planting a whole bunch more,” he said. “But what we do have in the ground continues to mature and become more productive, so we are excited about it.”
There is no concern about an oversupply. “We certainly have the demand,” Mr. Anderson said. “We sold out last year, and we certainly intend on selling out this year.”
The 2012-13 season is the second year for the organization “in terms of a dedicated marketing campaign,” he said. Last year, Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers introduced a new consumer brand, “Natural Delights.” This year, the group launched a new retail consumer product line called Snack Packs.
“On the trade side, we’ve got the shipper program,” he said, referring to a retail display shipper that “continues to drive sales for us for the holidays in particular.” Also, “we have a specific header card for the holidays that we utilize. We have been using that in some of the trade ads we have bought.”
The Bard Valley Medjool Dates Association has “some new items we think are really relevant for our consumers,” Mr. Anderson said. “Our program is all about generating trials. We are anxious to get folks to try our product.”
The new Snack Pack was scheduled to launch at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit Expo in October. That product will be available in whole as well as pitted Medjool dates. “Then we’ve got three varieties of date rolls which will be available in these Snack Packs” as well, he said. They are almond, coconut and “our new chili flavor, which we will be introducing this year,” he said.
The pitted Medjool product is new this year and is “the only pitted Medjool date available in the United States,” he said. It is packed by DatePac LLC, which is the primary packer within the Bard Valley association.
“That pitted product is really relevant to the consumer on a convenience basis,” he continued. In Deglet Noor dates, almost 70 percent of the volume is marketed in pitted form, “and we think that there is a significant opportunity here to appeal to the convenience segment of the consume base” with pitted Medjools.
As of late October, the association was “right in the middle” of its marketing campaign. “Every single thing that we are doing from a marketing perspective is now occurring,” Mr. Anderson said.
“Digitally, we are appearing on digital banner advertising on over 100 different websites” through a network purchase. “We have landing pages set up” for people who click through on the banner ads. In 11 selected markets, the landing pages are set up by market and “feature retailers that have our product, so we continue to try to link our activity to our distribution.”
The association is also doing consumer print advertising for the first time this year, he said. The ads are running in geo-specific editions in four magazines: Health, Fitness, Every Day with Rachael Ray and Cooking Light. The markets in which the ads will appear are Boston, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Houston and Chicago.
“Those markets were chosen because of the level of brand development or category development that we have in each, corresponding with distribution,” Mr. Anderson said.
“We will run four different insertions,” he continued. The first was in September, and “we will run October, November and December. Every one of those ads has dollar-off coupons,” and “the total circulation is 3.7 million.”
The intent, Mr. Anderson said, “is not just to build awareness but getting people to try our product. All the research has shown that there is a real disparity” between perception and reality with Medjool dates. When people in focus groups are asked how they feel about dates, there are often negative responses, but then, “when you have them actually try dates, Medjool in particular, obviously, many times you will get a ‘wow!’ — a literal verbal response of ‘Wow, I had no idea.’“
As more people are giving Medjools a try, the household penetration rate continues to grow, he said. Volume is increasing 20-30 percent “year over year,” and “our distribution is growing accordingly, at pretty much the same rate.”