Post by Ismail AbdulAzeez on Nov 27, 2020 11:11:31 GMT 1
The demand for dates in Europe is increasing. Dates are particularly popular for their sweetness, as a natural source of energy, as a sugar substitute, as an ingredient in fruit bars and as a cooking ingredient. The season for fresh dates is very short in producing countries, and only a few varieties are appropriate for eating at this stage. Therefore, this study will only discuss the European market for dried dates (sometimes called ‘table dates’).
Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree (Phoenix dactylifera). Depending on the fruit’s maturity, dates are referred to as fresh or dried.
When left on the tree, dates will ripen, change colour, soften and reduce in size, weight and moisture content, but increase in sugar content. When picked early to avoid damage by rain, insects or other factors, dates may need to be additionally ripened after harvest. After harvesting and cleaning, dates are protected from insects through fumigation, commonly rehydrated for better softness, sterilized by being exposed to higher temperatures, sorted into grades by quality and size and stored in a cool atmosphere.
Dates can be produced without any treatment after harvesting, those dates are called natural dates. Dates can also undergo treatment after harvesting, including rehydration and coating with glucose syrup or sorbitol. Those dates are called conditioned dates.
Global Market Opportunities For Dates
Opportunities for developing country suppliers can be found in large markets such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. The main importers of dates in Europe are also the leading consumers: France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Date consumers are no longer mostly from the traditional ethnic population but are increasingly also younger consumers (millennials) following healthy living trends.
In the long term, the European market for dates is expected to show stable growth. This growth is likely to be driven by changes in the consumption patterns of European consumers. This includes the rising interest in healthy snacking and sugar replacement. Another driving force would be consumption by a large number of immigrants who are arriving in Europe. Date demand is stable and increasing, which is clearly evident from the constantly increasing retail sales of dates.
Global Market Competition
New suppliers must be able to compete with producers from Tunisia and Algeria and other growing suppliers.
Requirements dates must comply with to be allowed on the European market
All foods, including dates, sold in the European Union must be safe. This also applies to imported products. Additives must be approved. Levels of harmful contaminants, insect contamination, such as pesticide residues and mycotoxins, must be limited.
Contaminants control in dates
The European Commission Regulation sets maximum levels for certain contaminants in food products. This regulation is frequently updated, and apart from the limits set for general foodstuffs, there are a number of specific contaminant limits for specific products, including dates. The most common requirements regarding contaminants in dates are related to pesticide residues, microbiological organisms, foreign bodies (such as insects), preservatives and food additives. Preventive measures after harvesting are strictly recommended.
European authorities can reject products if they have undeclared or unauthorized extraneous materials or if the levels of these materials are too high. Although European consumers prefer dates without any additives, glucose syrup, sugars, flour (usually in chopped dates) and vegetable oils can be optional ingredients in date production. If any of those ingredients is used, it must be declared in the ingredients list, as well as in the product description. If a preservative is used (such as potassium sulphate), the quantity used must be declared too.
Quality requirements for export
Quality of dates is determined by the allowed percentage of defective produce, by total number of fruits. The industry has defined several criteria for quality, but some of them, such as taste and flavour, are subjective and cannot be easily determined by physical characteristics.
Specific quality standards for dates have not been officially defined by the European Union. The most common standards used are the standards published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and by the Codex Alimentarius.
The basic quality requirements for dates are
Absence of: insects, damages, moulds, fermentation and foreign smell or taste;
Moisture content: maximum of 26% for cane sugar varieties and 30% for invert sugar varieties. However, for Deglet Nour dates in their natural state, the maximum moisture content is 30%;
Presentation: separated into individual fruits (pitted or unpitted), clusters (dates with the main bunch stem attached) and stems (stems that are separated from the rachis, with the fruit attached naturally). Dates can be chopped, too;
Additional ingredients: must be clearly indicated. Dates are often produced without any additions, but some producers use preservatives, usually potassium sulphate or coatings such as glycose syrup or vegetable oil.
Specific marketing requirements include
Classification: dates are classified into three classes: Extra Class, Class I and Class II;
Sizing: size classification is optional. Dates can be classified into three categories, according to the number of dates per 500 grams.
Packaging requirements for dates export
In bulk packaging, dates are typically packed into carton boxes with a polythene liner inside. Bulk packages usually weigh 5 kg but sometimes weigh 10 kg. For retail packaging, smaller carton boxes or plastic trays are most common. The size of retail packaging varies between 250 g and 1 kg. Dates can be packed pressed (to better fit into containers), unpressed (without mechanical force) and in clusters (with the main bunch stem attached). Some producers pack dates in retail packaging together with a plastic stick that resembles a central stem.
Dried dates can be stored at ambient temperature for some time, but they are best stored refrigerated at 4-10°C. At temperatures higher than 25°C, the syrup or date honey may seep out of the packaging. The shelf life of dates varies per cultivar. For example, the Medjool variety has a shorter shelf life than the Deglet Nour variety. As mentioned, wholesalers often store dates in frozen form. Shelf life can also be prolonged if dates are vacuum packed in an inert atmosphere.
The content of the packaging must correspond with the indicated quantity (in weight or volume) on the label. Importers will check size and weight to ensure that pre-packed products are within the limits of tolerable errors.
The label should indicate the name of the product (‘dates’ or ’dates coated with glucose syrup’), the name and physical address of the packer, the dates style (cluster, stems, pitted where appropriate), the country of origin and the class. It is common practice to put the name of the variety, the crop year and the best-before date on the label. When dates undergo thermal treatment (hydration and drying), they are commonly declared as processed or conditioned dates. Without these treatments, dates are declared natural dates.
In the case of retail packaging, product labelling must comply with the European Union Regulation on the provision of food information to consumers. This regulation defines nutrition labelling, origin labelling, allergen labelling and minimum font size for mandatory information. Dates are not declared as an allergen. However, sulphites must be indicated as potential allergens if they are used as preservatives. Retail packs must be labelled in a language that can easily be understood by consumers in the European target country, so generally in the country’s official language. This explains why European products often carry multiple languages on the label.
In addition to this regulation from 1 April 2020, all food in retail packs in Europe must be labelled with the indication of origin. For example, if dates are packed in Nigeria, packaging still needs to indicate the origin of dried dates.