Dubai – MENA Herald: As international demand for the vitamin, mineral and fibre-rich date fruit soars, Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) will boost the region’s burgeoning dates industry by hosting the UAE’s first-ever Global Date Market at this year’s The Speciality Food Festival – one in a trio of niche food events running 7-9 November 2016.
“In recent years we have seen growing requests for exhibition space from date producers and manufacturers of an increasing range of date-based products,” explained Trixie LohMirmand, Senior Vice President, Exhibitions & Events Management (DWTC). “It was a natural progression to create a focussed feature area for trade in this high-demand fruit and its associated products at the centre of a region where it remains at the heart of a dietary and social culture.”
A recent report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says there is renewed international interest in the date as a food source. “Not necessarily as a staple food,” says the report, “but rather as a component in food preparations like sweets, confectionery, baking products, institutional feeding and health foods.”
Worldwide dates are now being recognised for their health benefits, including their reputation as energy boosters as well as bone health and strength aids. The date now has a credible reputation as a source of essential minerals including calcium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, magnesium and zinc and vitamins A and K, as well as thiamine or vitamin B1, riboflavin, niacin and folate, which has led to an uptick in its use as a semi-finished ingredient, according to the FAO report.
On a product level, dates are now being used in snack bars and cereals, jams, dairy products including flavoured milk and ice-cream and are increasingly a base for fruit chutneys, sauces, pickle mixes and condiments.
“The expanding popularity of dates is largely due to changing dietary habits worldwide and a mounting focus on healthy eating. For instance, food producers are coming under increasing and highly-publicised pressure to reduce added sugar content in products and, as a result, are turning to more ‘natural sweeteners’ like date sugar,” said LohMirmand.
The Global Date Market is being sponsored by the Saudi Export Development Authority (SEDA) – a governmental organisation focussed on developing exports from the Kingdom that are diverse and globally competitive. SEDA will have a 180 square metre stand at the market to highlight key date brands from the Kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia is now the world’s largest producer of dates and the Kingdom’s presence at The Global Date Market lends a powerful stamp of approval for the initiative in building the region as the most lucrative market of this sweet fruit,” said LohMirmand.
“The prospects for the Kingdom look very good and Saudi producers are investing heavily in improved technology, packaging and storage methods to boost competitiveness of their date exports, all of which will be in evidence at the Global Date Market.”
Companies from throughout the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the USA have already signed up for the Global Date Market, including California’s Crescent Dates which is expanding its market for premium Medjool dates now being promoted by the US health industry as ‘nature’s power fruit’ and a natural sweetener and sugar alternative.
With Worldwide date production reaching 715 million net tons by the end of 2014 and 90 per cent of production hailing from the Middle East and Africa, LohMirmand believes the Global Date Market has tremendous growth potential.
“The date’s time in the global speciality food spotlight is now and with rising demand from the Sub-continent, less than four hours away from Dubai, a growing Western appetite for health products and sugar alternatives, the Global Date Market will go a long way to helping producers and buyers tap into a significant worldwide food trend. We envisage strong visitation from buyers servicing the region’s top hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and other specialist traders sourcing a wide range of global date varieties.”
The Speciality Food Festival is part of a trio of conveniently-segmented food events which also features Seafex, devoted to seafood and Yummex in partnership with Koelnmesse GmbH, the region’s leading international trade fair for the confectionery and snacks market. The trio is co-located alongside Gulfood Manufacturing, the Middle East’s biggest food manufacturing, processing, packaging, logistics and materials handling exhibition.
Another first for DWTC’s trio of niche food event is the co-located platform Future Food Live, running in partnership with the Dubai Municipality – a first Dubai international conference on Applied Nutrition. Trade visitors focusing on the wellbeing segment will discover the full spectrum of organic, free-from, halal and other healthy food products and ingredients. Attendees will include everyone from global food specialists and distributors to large-scale government-backed farms.
DWTC’s trio of niche food events are open from 10am-5pm from 7-9 November 2016 and are for trade and business professionals only. General public and persons under the age of 21 will not be permitted entry. Registration is available at the show upon proof of trade status.