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Yogi & Yousef

“Fresh dates - the new bananas”

Dates: fresh, soft, sweet, healthy, easy to eat, and very versatile. According to Yogi of Yogi & Yousef, dates have everything needed to become the new banana. "It's our mission to get fresh dates into the top five most eaten fruits within five years," he says.

"That's not up to the dates themselves. Though, 93% of people like them once they taste them." The challenge is to dispel the prejudices surrounding dates. Consumers know dates primarily as a dried fruit. And it does not have a great image, to say the least. "We have lots of tastings. People initially say they don't like dates."

"Upon further inquiry, you learn that their frame of reference is those tough, sticky, hard dates. These are sometimes presented on one of those plastic sticks. These are dried dates, often also sugared. Those have traumatized many people. And have nothing in common with fresh dates," Yogi continues.

Retail's move
That makes it hugely challenging to increase dates popularity. But, the tastings help. "We've noticed that once people taste the product, they buy it. At first, 30% say they like dates. However, once people have tasted our caramel-sweet Dalia Sukkary dates, that skyrockets to 93%. That's an insanely high number." The next step lies with retail which still tends to classify dates in the nut category.

Dates should get a prominent place in supermarkets' fresh produce aisles. "You don't see fresh apricots with the dried apricots. Fresh dates are picked when they're still full of moisture and immediately refrigerated. So they retain their moisture and juiciness. In the chain, they're also treated as a fresh product," says Yogi.

Fresh dates have enormous potential on fruit and vegetable shelves. Dates are very healthy and have a wide range of uses. "Entire tribes used to survive in the Arabian desert on this special fruit. Dates contain many of the recommended nutrients: vitamins, 11 grams of fiber per 100 grams. And they have no fewer than nine essential minerals."

These include calcium, iron, copper, manganese, and magnesium. It's an ideal snack, and you can use it as a sweetener in all kinds of dishes. That makes dates at least as versatile as bananas. We all eat about 19kg of bananas per person annually. Fresh dates are also soft, sweet fruit. And people eat 254 grams of those per person/year. There's, therefore, an awful lot of room to grow."

Dates also vary enormously, flavour-wise. The best known fresh date is the Medjool. The Dalia Sukkary, which Yogi & Yousef sells, is an entirely different experience. Yogi: "I usually make the comparison to coffee. The Medjool is more like espresso, in terms of flavor -  fairly sharp, sweet, and quite meaty."

"The Dalia Sukkary is a lot more palatable - smooth with a creamy caramel taste, like a latte. It's by no means our intention to displace the Medjool. On the contrary, since consumers' tastes differ, we desperately need it to bring dates to more people's attention. You want to give people a choice, just like with different kinds of apples." 

That dates are catching on is evident. Yogi & Yousef is growing rapidly. "We started in 2013 with 3,000kg of dates. Now we're reaching one million kilos per year. We're growing on average 50% to 100% annually. Last year we expanded incredibly fast again. And we're expecting to grow 80% compared to last year. The expansion is divided about 50-50."

"That's between our fresh Dalia Sukkary dates and the paste. That's made from dates that aren't suitable for the fresh market. There's high demand for this paste because you can use it as a base for vegetarian dough. Our date paste's sweetness and texture eliminate the need for animal and refined products like sugar, eggs, and flour."

This Dutch company supplies its fresh dates to retailers in six different countries. It sells half under an organic private label and the rest as conventional. They recently launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to convert the entire crop to organic.

It raised €1 million within a mere 90 minutes. They want to switch to organic, not because the market demands it. But because Yogi & Yousef want to work sustainably. "We want to ensure a beautiful,  healthy product as well as a healthy environment. You shouldn't allow pesticides to end up in nature," explains Yogi.

"We're now so large that all our date growers can switch to fully organic date cultivation. It's not an issue for us that the market isn't necessarily anticipating that. Our company has been on a sustainable path from the beginning. Our latest calculations show we're completely CO2 neutral. We use plant-based plastics for our consumer packaging. We pay local pickers a fair wage and ensure safe working conditions. We pack all our dates in the Netherlands. Our snack and share boxes are even packed at a sheltered workplace."

Yogi & Yousef clearly explain and share all these extra efforts with retailers. Even if these stores do not require organic products. "Yes, organic farming is more expensive. But we're not going to do it any differently. Then what happened 50 years ago will happen again. You'll end up in a trend of being cheaper every time, which will make you cut corners."

"Of course, we also look at what's happening with fresh dates in the market. However, we begin from the value we create. We have a fair product - creamy, soft, fresh dates with a caramel flavor, beautifully packaged. That's the value we offer. A growing number of clients appreciate that too," concludes Yogi.

Yogi & Yousef
Overboslaan 6
2101 AM Heemstede
T: +31 235763009 

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