TBY talks to Suliman A. Al Saeed, Owner & CEO of Etmar Dates Est., Founder & Owner of The Saudi Dates Co., on adding value to date production, collaborating with international brands, and major export markets.

How did Etmar evolve as a pioneer company in terms of integrating the value-added side of dates?

Etmar Dates Est. was established in 1999, following my purchase of Etmar Est., I start a new era to the company by diversifying the business of the company and focused on different sectors. We do not sell dates locally only, but we started approaching overseas market. Locally, we concentrated on date's unique backing using our specialized in-house designers until we have been ranked as the best dates company in Saudi Arabia for packing either in wooden or carton boxes. Our clients mostly are corporation but include government and semi-governmental organizations, all Saudi embassies and consulates around the world, banks, mega companies, airlines, insurance companies, telecom companies, and luxury hotels. We are not a wholesale provider, to the point where we tailor a specific customers packing regardless of the dates types. We also work closely with our clients to tailor their specific gifts with a unique packing with dates as the national treasure rather than sending plain dates only. Most of our five-star hotels are using our products in their lobbies as the local tradition also in the hotel's rooms along with encouraging the chefs to use our dates in their meals, especially within their deserts. We are so proud that we encourage the big hospitals such as the biggest local hospital Sulaiman Al-Habib hospital (six hospitals within KSA and Dubai) to use our products in the lab and in the meals for their patients. Last year, McDonalds with their very restrictive rules, we were able to gain and win their trust to use our dates.

Do you hope that going forward you can expand on the commercial side?

Further to our plans on diversifying and expansion of our business, on the domestic strategy, we have startedto expand in the wholesale sector through the mega hypermarkets and supermarkets stores, which is one of our goals for 2017. We are working now with specific government organizations to capitalize on marketing the dates as number one tradition products in Saudi Arabia both locally and further abroadfor exporting purposes. Nowadays, the Saudi Business Council with the US, Turkey, and Russia will work together to plan & strategize the exports plans. We started approaching the concept to merge the gifts with dates especially with the VIP customers. For international strategies we have started to join and support the Ministry of Trade and Saudi Export Development Authority on all the business trips to market the Saudi Arabia Industries in our case, part of which on last year we visited more than 10 countries: Russia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, Morocco, and Turkey which helped in securing several deals with some of these countries to import dates along with strategizing with our customers especially Europe on the best way to market the dates as a unique product.Furthermore, we are on the final stage to sign an agreement with a US partner we are also going to sign a contract to start a branch in Texas with a new company called Saudi Dates, which we have just established. All the exports are going to be under the name Saudi Dates.

What are your main export markets?

The GCC and also soon we are going to finalize our branch with our partner in the US. We have a negotiation now with Spain, Italy, and Germany in Turkey as well to distribute dates in a unique way out of the traditional methodology. Recently we have being approached by some clients asking us for huge quantities of dates, but they do not care about quality as they only focus on price which we did refuse since this is not our target as we are conservative about Saudi dates as a brand to protect the image of Saudi Arabia quality and moreover our name (Etmar and Saudi Dates Co.) in the market. Saudi Arabia has more than 400 kinds of dates across the region, and according to the Saudi Arabia 2030 Vision, the government and officials here are organizing the dates distributions and planting certain kinds within the kingdom for each region for control and quality purposes.

Are you optimistic about 2017 and beyond?

When it comes to our business, we are positive about 2017. Especially during Ramadan either locally or internationally,we have a lot of deals. Meanwhile, we are further looking forward inworking with a potential partners worldwide with partners who appreciates the date business. We try our best to educateour partners before we sign any Contract or Agreement with them especially Western Europe and the US. We appreciate the continuous assistance from the US-Saudi Business Council in finding partners and distributers within the US and further educate us in the regulations to export dates there.