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It’s a date: ASU students push fruit’s sales

February 14, 2008

Making dates an attractive fruit alternative to a larger segment of the population is a task that students from ASU’s Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness have taken on – and they plan to present their findings and recommendations during two competitions in April.

Members of the ASU student chapter of the National Agri-marketing Association (NAMA) were asked by the Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association (BVMDGA) to help with a way to increase sales of Medjool palm date fruit. BVMDGA is organized as a growers’ cooperative and is managed by Dave Mansheim.

Mansheim said the challenge with dates is that “most of the people who buy whole dates are 50 years of age or older. We would like to find a way to increase the number of younger people buying whole dates.”

The ASU NAMA team members will research why younger people are hesitant to buy whole dates. At this point, the team is hypothesizing that it’s because their appearance is unappealing.

“Admittedly they are different-looking, but they are packed with nutrients and other healthful attributes that might actually appeal to a younger, health-conscious population,” says John Lewis, NAMA student chapter faculty adviser. “They have more antioxidants than blueberries, more potassium than bananas, and high iron and fiber content.”

Taking into consideration the aesthetic challenges and health benefits, the NAMA team has a preliminary plan to create packaged food products aimed at younger people who seek a healthy lifestyle, and an advertising campaign that promotes the quality of the Medjool brand.

“Some of our proposed plan will include recommendations to use dates in smoothies at places such as Jamba Juice, as well as the production of date muffins or breads exclusively for Starbucks, health bars made with dates that would be available at gyms, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, and healthier confectionary products available at natural food stores and outdoor adventure stores such as REI,” says James Vieyra, a senior agribusiness student at ASU.

The ASU NAMA team plans to build a recognizable brand for the BVMDGA’s dates by developing an advertising campaign that promotes the superior quality – and the health and nutrition attributes – of Medjool dates.

The marketing team will recommend that the highest-grade Medjool dates continue to be sold as whole dates in retail food stores, with recommendations to boost whole date sales.

The Medjool date brand also will be used on labels of other health-orientated date products targeted at younger, health-conscience consumers.

In April, the ASU NAMA team will compete in two different marketing competitions: NAMA in Kansas City, Mo., and the Western Collegiate Food Marketing Competition in southern California.

NAMA is a national association of advertising agencies and marketers, and the Morrison School’s student NAMA chapter has been participating in these student competitions since 1999. Over the years, ASU has advanced to the semifinals three times.

Competing marketing teams from nearly 40 universities in the United States and Canada submit a five-page written executive summary of a marketing plan and make a 20-minute presentation. The executive summary must contain a market analysis, business proposition, an action plan, a three-year projected financial evaluation, and monitoring and measurement methods.

“Through this whole experience, students also are gaining knowledge in the Consumer Behavior Laboratory with conducting focus groups and taste tests, knowledge of the business world, development of marketing and advertising plans, and other valuable skills and experiences,” Lewis says.