Healthy Genie bets on dates as the next big thing in snacking

Maryum Manaf makes date truffles at Food Starter in Toronto. Source: E. Crawford

Sitting at the crossroads between consumer demand for healthy alternatives to sugar-sweetened confections and authentic, globally-inspired flavors, dates are growing trend that the founder of the Canadian company Healthy Genie believes are the next big thing. 

“Healthy-ethnic is definitely on trend right now,” said Maryum Manaf, who launched Healthy Genie last year as a date-based snack company out of the Toronto-based incubator Food Starter.

She explained that dates nail this trend because they offer “a combination of something that tastes sweet so you feel like you are eating a dessert, but it is healthy and same time.”

In addition, she said, many people in Canada hail from Dubai and the Middle East, where dates are prevalent, and they are looking for a taste from their homeland and introducing their friends to the flavors they grew up eating.

A ‘healthy candy concept’

To help meet this growing demand, Manaf began selling date-based treats last year, including date truffles and gourmet stuffed dates.

Both options are a “healthy candy concept” and blend dates, nuts and seeds but leave out the added-sugar and preservatives that consumers today don’t want, Manaf said. She further explained that the truffles are a blend of dates, nuts and seeds in bite-size balls that are rolled in an extra coating of coconut, sesame or pistachio depending on the flavor.

The stuffed medjool dates, similarly are filled with nut mixtures so that consumers first experience the soft, sweet texture of the date but then have a satisfying crunch in the middle.

In both products, Manaf says she uses only high quality ingredients that are not masked with other flavors or spices and which are “properly measured so that each bite a person takes is a very nutritious snack” – an essential element of the lines given Manaf is a nutritionist.

Inspired from date stores in Dubai

The idea for the snacks came from stores in Dubai where Manaf visited growing up that sold high-end dates the same way fudge and gourmet truffles are sold in the US. She explained that in Dubai, shoppers select from a display case individual dates, which are then packaged in gift-wrap and ribbons to either be given to friends and family or taken home and enjoyed as a special treat.

Like these stores, Manaf gift-wraps the products that she sells online, so they have a premium, high-end feel. But, she says, for grab-and-go options sold in stores, transparent clamshells with a decorative label are better because those consumers want to see what they are buying.

In addition to the truffles and stuffed dates, Health Genie sells a date spread which is made from pureed dates and sesame paste that Manaf says is “like a healthy Nutella,” but “still feels like you are having a treat.”

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