The anti-corona measures have been having a yo-yo effect on consumer spending. Date trader Mustapha Chihabi of Tomoor in Belgium has, therefore, noticed that business confidence is down. "We always try to remain positive, but the circumstances aren't ideal." However, there's still a generally increasing demand for dates, he says. Natural dates without added glucose syrup are particularly popular.
The consumer focus on healthier products plays a role in this. According to Mustapha, there's a clear trend towards healthier sweeteners. That, in turn, affects the food industry. He says the industry's looking for alternatives to refined sugars and sweeteners. That's in response to consumer demand. "Dates are an underutilized fruit that can be upgraded."
"We're marketing dates in the food industry as a genuinely healthy alternative to sugars." Refined sugars cost much less than date products. But that appears to be of secondary importance. The food industry expects to lose market share, says Mustapha. That's if there's no innovation or alternative to refined sugars in products. "Shoppers are always looking for low-sugar or sugar-free products."
Tomoor offers date powder as a sugar alternative to places like industrial bakeries. The powder is derived from destoning, drying, and grinding dates. The resulting powder resembles brown sugar. Chihabi considers this a real sugar alternative. Its high nutritional value is particularly beneficial. "Refined sugars have zero nutritional value."
"Dates, however, are very rich in dietary fiber, essential nutrients, and minerals." Dates have a low glycemic index too. This index shows how much a product affects blood sugar levels. So, it's also suitable for people with diabetes, Mustapha says. Fructose is extracted from dates too. Tomoor expects to be able to introduce this liquid form of fructose to the market in early 2021.
World cultural heritage
Tomoor noted that last year, date palms, and their accompanying industries, were included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. This boosted the food industry's interest in date products. It also fits in well with Tomoor's corporate philosophy to buy products from protected industries. "Our company not only focuses on commercial gain. We try to be as socially responsible as possible too. By commercializing dates, we protect the climate," explains Mustapha.
"And by promoting the date industry, we also protect the local population that works in that industry." Tomoor gets its dates exclusively from a family business that grows dates in the largest palm grove in eastern Saudi Arabia. It markets the dates and date products, mainly in Europe. Mustapha says there are usually two peaks in demand for dates: around Ramadan and the Festive season. Especially for the holidays, the assortment is extended to include nut-filled, chocolate-coated dates.