Dubai: Bateel's success as a business can be attributed to that rare marketing formula: being able to turn a staple food in the local diet into a gourmet experience.
In doing so, Bateel has single-handedly brought about a sweeping transformation in the way dates are perceived by the local populace. "Bateel's concept of having the consumer enjoy not just the product but the purchase as well, would make us the only provider of a gourmet date experience in the world," said Vivek Sharma, the brand's deputy general manager for sales and marketing.
To ensure this was the case, Bateel took control of the entire process.
This started with harvesting the fruit, through to determining the wrapping and the platter which accompanied the product at its outlets.
"Bateel is an integrated company and that includes farming, processing, manufacturing, marketing and premium retailing functions," Sharma said.
"We are selling one of the most expensive dates around the world because producing such quality is costly."
It's a quality that is obviously being lapped up by the date connoisseur, as Bateel has recorded yearly growth rates of up to 40 per cent. The company is owned by Dr Ziad Al Sudairy of Saudi Arabia, who owns a number of date farms in Al Ghat, a town 200km outside Riyadh. Nature has blessed the area with sweet groundwater, a fertile soil and climatic conditions is just right for harvesting high quality dates. Since the dates are produced to exacting standards, it was a given that Al Sudairy would present them as a premium offering. Hence the decision was made for Bateel to create its own trademark and open its first retail outlet to sell its branded produce in Riyadh in 1992. Bateel is an Arabic word which refers to the young off-shoot of a date palm, which can be used to grow a new tree.
From that one outlet in Riyadh, the Bateel company has expanded to encompass 36 shops and seven cafés in 16 countries, including England and Indonesia. Bateel will shortly enter Syria as well.
From there, it was just a small step to using dates as the essential ingredient in a range of confectionery and savouries.
Today, Bateel's reputation has been enhanced by its assorted truffles, pralines and ganaches, and chocolate lovers have come to appreciate Bateel chocolate's delicate texture, taste and authentic aroma.
It may come as no surprise then to learn that Bateel chocolate is made from the best cocoa imported from France and Belgium.
"Every year we produce about 1,500 tonnes of dates and 250 tonnes of chocolate," Sharma said.
Despite its own substantial date production, Bateel said demand was so high that the company ran out of dates well before the end of the year. "We market over 20 varieties of dates, an unrivalled selection which includes the khidri, sokari, madjool and others, and the most expensive kind could reach up to Dh250 per kg," said Sharma.
The general manager was proud to say that Bateel uses some of the most advanced farming techniques available, which was reflected in the product's appearance and quality.
"What makes Bateel unique is the almost zero-infestation level, virtually unachievable by most producers," he said.
"All this depends on our processing model, which is not only expensive but also labour extensive."
Sharma said the company had taken as much care with the retail experience and ambience of Bateel Boutiques, as it had with its fruit production.
The boutiques' interiors are in warm, inviting tones and the rows stuffed with nuts, dry fruits and colourful chocolates are a feast for the eyes. "The GCC is our core market and the consumer's reaction to the concept of date gourmet is warm as the fruit is part of the gulf culture," Sharma said.
"However, Bateel's boutiques are running successfully outside the Middle East, in Malaysia, Indonesia and India.
"In the long term we see Europe as potential market, which is already reflected in our UK operations.
"Virtually any gourmet food and date company would like to be positioned like us. It is not just a brand, but where quality is as vertically integrated as the company is. I feel Bateel is unique in many ways, a gourmet dates and sweets experience."
Assortment of pastries
In addition to its well-earned reputation as a retailer of premium dates, Bateel is working on a broader gourmet strategy.
"Our master pastry chefs create an exquisite assortment of gourmet pastries and biscuits," said Vivek Sharma. "Bateel is a brand of choice for fine food, offering a wide variety that includes Turkish delight, date jams and honeys, date pesto, mustard and balsamic vinegar and other date-inspired delicacies as well as more traditional sweets like nougat and marrons glaces."
The Café Bateel is a concept that combines the rich tradition of Arabian hospitality with Umbrian culinary heritage. "All the food ingredients and recipes are brought from Italy, and the chef is Italian as well," Sharma said.