Ramadan ends today, and with it a unique promotion by a U.S. brand with high cultural relevance to the American Muslim community: Joolies dates.
Date farmers in California’s Coachella Valley each year enjoy a significant spike in sales during Ramadan and the weeks preceding the important observation for Muslims. Dates are a traditional way for Muslims to end a day of fasting in the Islamic holy month.
For the first time, Joolies, one of the region’s biggest date growers, fielded a consumer packaged good product conceived for and marketed to Muslims observing Ramadan. Joolies’ two-pound box of dates bore a specially designed cover with a large font reading “Ramadan Mubarak” and covered in lanterns and the silhouette of a mosque.
It was a relatively simple thing for Joolies to come up with a special package for Ramadan and to ramp up its marketing, which is largely digital, to accompany the product. More important was the consumer insight and strategic decision to field the product and appeal to an important constituency of shoppers in a new way. While an increasingly diverse U.S. marketplace offers many such opportunities for brands, authenticity is the key in executing any such promotion, said David Kohl, Joolies’ co-founder and owner.
“Dates are so important culturally to Muslims, and when you grow dates, Ramadan is always a very important time of the year,” the long-time date grower told Chief Executive. “Honoring the holiday, and the historic role of dates, was very important to us as a brand in recognizing these consumers.”
The company also donated 15,000 dates to Islamic Circle of North America Relief to help feed needy Muslim families in the U.S., an outfit that also passes out dates after prayer in mosques during Ramadan.
Prophet Muhammad is said to have recommended dates to break the Ramadan fast, and the fruit is mentioned frequently in the Koran. Today, centuries after dates were introduced by Christian missionaries in California, the state produces more than 90 percent of the U.S. date crop and as much as 15 percent of all dates worldwide.
“The feedback we’ve gotten from consumers is wonderful and heart-warming – people were feeling recognized and excited about what we were doing,” Kohl said. “That’s who we like to be as a brand.”
Despite the high nutritional value of dates – they’re full of natural energy and fiber, while sugary, fat-free and include small amounts of many important vitamins and minerals – growers have been slow to join the better-for-you food revolution in the United States that has made CPG stars out of other California commodities including pomegranates, almonds and pistachios.
But Kohl launched the Joolies brand of his organic medjool dates a few years ago with innovative and eco-friendly packaging, labeling, marketing and distribution.
“Snacking is where we felt the market wasn’t happening,” Kohl said. “People put dates in recipes and smoothies and are eating them and loving them – but for millennials, the snacking market wasn’t there. There are so many healthy snacks in the marketplace, so we felt there was a place for dates out there.”
Joolies’ co-founder is Venice Brands, a group of investors and domain experts that assist CPG startup brands – and whose CEO is Greg Willsey, a former executive of Wonderful Co., the Southern California giant behind Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice and Wonderful Pistachios. Joolies’ CEO is Mark Masten, another ex-Wonderful executive.