Schoolchildren piled up excitedly at a special stall for dates at the recent Omani date festival in Nizwa. The enthusiastic kids lapped up the date jams, cakes and confectionaries on dates. Hamida bint Said al Esry, an Omani entrepreneur, who led her stall of Kaleit Dates Company, finally felt recognised for her work. As owner since 2014, she brings with her a special touch of making handmade, gourmet date confections.
With fine packing that best shows off the product, Kaleit Dates are now much sought after as special gifts and as Omani souvenirs during events and celebrations.
There are many varieties of the date fruit in the Sultanate where the type and name changes from location to location. However, the best date fruit ‘Khalas’ is popular for its distinctive superior taste. Kaleit dates have selected this date sourced from local Omani farmers to create an unsurpassed product bringing out the finest of tastes.
But what makes ‘Kaleit’ dates stand out are the secret ingredients which Hamida sourced from her grandmother giving it a modern touch to the traditional ways. It was her idea to have date fruits with a dried fruit wherein the date seeds are removed and stuffing them with almonds. These are among a few of the many items which she wraps as gifts and sells through various outlets, not only in Oman, but outside as well.
Kaleit dates have ventured into exploring into this Omani delicacy with traditional cooking methods while complimenting with innovative ideas. These include various types of dried fruit fillings and assorted toppings such as mixed nut, chocolate, coconut and seeds namely pumpkin, sunflower or sesame. Today, she successfully runs a micro-SME company in Al Khoudh along with Shinuna, her sister.
Various other products which they make with dates are the oatmeal cookies, Maamoul, date cake and jam, Lukum and Nougat which is a sweet with honey and nuts. With Maamoul, the most popular with Omanis, she makes a pastry like a shortbread cookie with a date and nut filling adding ground almond flour and semolina to make the pastry delicious and unique.
Hamida says the key to cooking dates traditionally concerns the time consumed as it is slow process, ensuring all essential spices are properly incorporated without overcooking the dates. “We source dates from various wilayats depending on best available produce of dates from Ibri in Al Dhahirah Governorate to Nizwa in Al Dakhiliyah. Marketing is our next strategy and I am confident business will improve with better exposure to my products,” she confides.
Shinuna has a strong designing capability for the gift boxes for which inspiration comes from many sources. For the smallest boxes with seven compartments comes from Islamic beliefs and is believed to have healing effects. For the corporate clients, usually medium sized, is convenient yet refined packaging making an elegant attache case as the prototype. Family gathering and joyous celebrations is an inspiration for the large boxes. The three different sizes are created to suit different needs.
Hamida admits establishment of retail outlets for SMEs in innovative Omani projects is an excellent form of business incubator. She strongly believes her products fit in perfectly with this ingenious support for SME towards marketing their products in an exceptional location having access to locals, residents and tourists. “My products are 100 per cent Omani, using selected best local date products sourced from various date farms.”
She traces her young days to Mombasa, Kenya, when she had the first taste with dates. Her grandmother and family inspired her to turn date cooking into a business. Initially she made some dates once to help in offering sweets when they received guests and it was very popular among family and friends. “Whoever tasted them when they visited us, kept asking if there was more and my family kept reminding me to make more,” she recollects.
As she sets out her future plans towards exporting her products abroad, she makes it a point to take part in local exhibitions and hopes to enter the foreign market. Hamida has registered with SMEs and is a privileged Riyada card holder which authorises her to open a souq at the new airport, and at Mina Sultan Qaboos waterfront to target European tourists who land through the cruise liners.
She promotes her work through the Phoenix Ladies Group Oman stressing that dates are healthy, locally made and delicious. “My dates are unique in a way that they are made with love, and are not mass produced, giving it an edge. The fact that I still cook it the traditional way, and give it a modern twist shaping into mouth sizes and adding the dried fruit in the centre makes it interesting. The beautiful boxes add that special touch,” she says contentedly.