The firm, which traditionally focussed on b2b, produces and processes over 60,000 tonnes of dates and date-based products such as sugar, paste, syrup, and fibre from its Dubai factory and exports to 79 countries worldwide.
“When the pandemic hit, people spent a lot more time at home. Instead of buying ready snack bars from the supermarkets, consumers were buying raw materials and making it themselves,” according to Yousuf Saleem, managing director.
“We see this in sales of cake mixes which just exploded as home baking became hugely popular.”
“So, we decided to start a range of retail products, selling date paste and date sugar in small retail packs for consumers.”
Products are sold on its online store, and other e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Noon.
“We even had potential clients who found our retail products online or in stores and then reached out to us for bulk purchases,” Saleem told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“This is a clear indication that post-pandemic, people have realised that the way forward is changing your eating habits, saying no to refined sugars, and taking care of our bodies of what we put in our mouth,” Saleem said.
Watch the video to hear from Saleem.
Based on the healthy snacking trend worldwide, Saleem is hopeful that this year will be another strong one, despite supply chain challenges.
“COVID-19 has been a nightmare on our supply chain. The easiest part was sourcing our dates, but our packaging material including plastic and corrugated carton saw prices surge and there was a scarcity initially, but things have now settled down.”
When it comes to freight shipping, the situation is not improving.
“Before the pandemic, if we received an order today, we could have it produced, packed and on the sea within three days.
“Today, we need to wait five to five weeks to secure container space, and this is on top of the additional costs we are paying, up to seven or eight times higher for certain regions.
“A lot of our resources are going into shipping, and while we do absorb a certain amount, the end user will feel the pinch in the higher costs of products.”
The other major problem is the availability of containers and the increase in transit times at various ports.
As the whole market shift to healthy eating and no added sugars on the back of the pandemic, it has created exponential demand for sugar alternatives including date sweeteners.
Hoping to meet this demand, Al Barakah Dates Factory is expanding its existing factory from 200,000 square feet to 600,000 square feet, with a capacity of 100,000 tonnes of date and date products annually - the equivalent to almost half of the UAE’s entire domestic harvest.
Construction of the factory is expected to complete by April 2022.
Besides factory expansion, the company has been working on a new date spread over the last few months.
It is currently available for B2B customers, with the firm hoping to release a retail version soon. Last year, it also launched a range of organic date ingredients.
“Organic dates are premium products and there is a niche clientele that buys these products. This year, we are going to procure more organic products,” according to Saleem.