Steps to Increase Date and Dried Fig Sales

Brooklyn Fare Market Produce

Use these 8 tips to increase date and dried fig sales year-round.

The days when a consumer seeks out dates and dried figs primarily for Thanksgiving and Christmas baking are over.

“Consumers are looking for dates year-round,” says Erin Hanagan-Muths, director of marketing for Yuma, AZ-based Natural Delights, one of the largest grower/packer/shippers of dates in North America. “They’re really a healthy snack, and we know that’s something people are looking for year-round.”

“Date sales have seen steady growth year over year for the past five seasons,” says Ben Antongiovanni, vice president of sales for Atlas Produce/Caramel Naturel, a grower/packer/shipper based in Bakersfield, CA. “More consumers are using dates every day. They are snacking on them, using them in protein shakes and adding them to meals. Our retail partners that merchandise big displays year-round have seen great results.”

Holiday shoppers are also buying dates and dried figs for a wider variety of celebrations. “Both dried figs and dates have a large audience for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Ramadan, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah,” says Linda Cain, vice president of marketing and retail sales at Valley Fig Growers, a grower-owned cooperative in Fresno, CA. Date sales may go up around Easter as well.

Medjool are the most popular date variety. They’re great for snacking, cooking and stuffing. “Deglet Noor dates are a strong holiday item, because they’re used in baking,” says Hanagan-Muths. “They’re drier, so they’re not a snacking date. They’re more of a cooking date.”

Dates and dried figs require little maintenance, which means they’re easy to merchandise. “Dried figs are hands-off; you don’t have to rotate them like berries,” says Cain. “There’s no shrink and a two-year sell-by date.” That means these fruits can turn a tidy profit for the produce department.

Below are eight tips for produce managers looking to sell more dates and dried figs in every season.


1. Display Prominently

“Dates are a great impulse item,” says Tom Williams, director of produce and floral for St. Cloud, MN-based Coborn’s, which operates 54 grocery stores and 70 convenience, liquor and other stores throughout the Midwest.

For that reason, it’s important to make sure dates and dried figs are prominently displayed. “That’s where the shippers really come in handy,” says Williams. Natural Delights and others can make secondary displays available to interested stores.

“Utilizing secondary displays is a means to put Medjool dates front and center in the produce department,” says Hanagan-Muths. “We found these secondary displays to be very supportive of getting people to come across the product.”

For people who want more permanent displays, Hanagan-Muths recommends putting them on racks or endcaps. “We received some feedback from consumers who say their biggest challenge is actually finding the dates. Sometimes products are not merchandised correctly. We’re under the banana racks or in the bottom corner of a shelf. Put them on top of a table or where they’re more eye level; they will sell more.”

“Dates are best merchandised with bananas,” says Antongiovanni with Caramel Naturel. They also do well next to the tropical fruits, oranges and in-shell nuts.

2. Offer Value-Added Products

“Almond date rolls and coconut date rolls do fairly well for snacking,” says Vinnie Latessa, produce director for Heinen’s Grocery Stores, a Cleveland-based chain of family-owned stores that serves northern Ohio and the greater Chicago area. He’s referring to dates rolled in almonds or coconut from Caramel Naturel.

“Almond date rolls and coconut date rolls do fairly well for snacking,” says Vinnie Latessa, produce director for Heinen’s Grocery Stores, a Cleveland-based chain of family-owned stores that serves northern Ohio and the greater Chicago area. He’s referring to dates rolled in almonds or coconut from Caramel Naturel.

“A sampling program will increase movement and sales. That’s especially true for the almond and coconut date rolls. When people try them, they go, ‘Wow, these aren’t bad.'”

 — Vinnie Latessa, Heinen’s Grocery Stores

3. Emphasize Nutritional Benefits

“As people get more health-conscious, they’re looking for sweet snacks that are also healthy,” says Latessa. Both dates and dried figs fit the bill. Dates are high in potassium and fiber. They have no fat, cholesterol, sodium or gluten.

“Nutritionally, dried figs are fantastic,” says Cain. “They have more calcium than milk and more potassium than bananas. They have no added sugar and are non-GMO.”

4. Share Baking, Gift Ideas

Dates and dried figs will always be popular for holiday baking. But there are other ways to play them up during the holiday season.

“Use shippers to incorporate dates into your holiday gift centers and incremental displays where you have fancier gift baskets and upscale chocolates,” says Coborn’s Williams.

“The best strategy for dates during the fall holidays is to build big displays in the middle of the bananas, and then have secondary date displays with the baking and dried fruit sections,” says Antongiovanni.

5. Highlight Non-Holiday Options

Latessa says he sells lots of dates to consumers interested in stuffing them. They’re delicious filled with goat cheese, blue cheese, Mascarpone or a cheese/nut combination. Dates are also great wrapped in bacon.

“Dried figs can be incorporated into smoothies, beverages and ice cream,” says Cain. “The 2-ounce bag is great size for snacking after biking or running.”

Natural Delights and Caramel Naturel have dozens of date recipe suggestions on their websites. They include protein shakes, muffins and biscuits, ravioli, poppers, salads and chocolate truffles. Valley Fig Growers also makes recipes for dishes like empanadas, Boston brown bread, chutneys and cakes available on its website.

6. Cross-Merchandising

“It’s very traditional to see cheese, nuts and dried fruit on a tray together as holiday items,” says Cain. She recommends cross-merchandising cheese and dried figs or dates together. Grab a block of good Parmesan (which does not have to be kept refrigerated all the time) from the deli department and set up an example tray.

“Figs are perfect with wine and port,” says Cain, so that’s another option for cross-merchandising; or place dried figs near the bagged salad, so people think to use them as salad toppers.

7. Create Partnerships

“We’re always willing to welcome retail partners who want to work with us on joint social media initiatives,” says Hanagan-Muths of Natural Delights. “We can provide a lot of materials to help educate consumers about this product. If a retailer has a registered dietitian, we would be happy to create a connection with that individual. They’ll get better merchandising and connect with the consumers we’re driving to retail.”

Valley Fig Growers also has a strong social media presence. The company offers frequent contests to help draw consumers to its social platforms and get them thinking about how to cook with dried figs. Cain says she’s happy to discuss partnerships and promotions with retailers.

8. Sample, Sample, Sample

“I think sampling is a real key,” says Heinen’s Latessa. “A sampling program will increase movement and sales.” That’s especially true for the almond and coconut date rolls, he says. “When people try them, they go, ‘Wow, these aren’t bad.’”

Williams agrees, but adds this caveat: “If you’re going to sample, make sure you’re not hiding the products. You have to have them in a highly visible location and make sure guests shopping can’t miss them.