The ink was barely dry on Washington’s newly announced Abraham Accords late last year when Brian Finkel hopped on one of the very first direct flights from Tel Aviv to Dubai.
The deal, finalized Feb. 24, is a milestone for the Chicago-born Finkel, whose company has built its reputation on producing Biblically inspired date syrup for the U.S. organic foods market.
“With our new partnership, we will sell Al Barakah’s line of date products under the D’vash Organics brand name all over the world,” Finkel told Green Prophet last week. “The deal gives us access to Al Barakah’s unparalleled manufacturing capabilities, pricing and supply. In return, it provides Al Barakah with access to US and other Western retail and wholesale markets under the D’vash Organics name.”
He added: “They wanted access to the US market, because they don’t have much presence outside the Middle East. For them, this is a conduit into the US and Western retail markets. They really are a behind-the-scenes manufacturer, and now they’ll have a piece of the action.”
Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, though D’vash Organics expects to see revenues of $2 to 3 million in fiscal 2021.
Finkel, an Orthodox Jew who lives in the West Bank settlement of Yakir, made aliyah [immigrated to Israel] in July 2013. Soon after, the Wharton School and financial consultant discovered silan, or date syrup.
“My mother-in-law uses it in desserts. It’s ubiquitous here and it’s such a versatile product,” he said. “One day, I had this ‘eureka’ moment. I called David Czinn, my friend and business partner in California, and asked him if this is a thing in America. He said, ‘no, but it should be.’ Because he’s in the food industry, he was able to leverage his connections.”
That led to a deal to source the product from organic dates grown in California’s Coachila Valley. Finkel and Czinn thought about exporting the product from Israel but said shipping costs would have been prohibitive.
But eventually, they discovered Dubai in the United Arab Emirates—which not only boasts 44 million date trees but also offers substantially cheaper shipping rates than either Israel or California.
“At that time, there were no diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE. They never asked where I was located, and I never volunteered that information, so it never became an issue,” he said. “The only time anything related to Israel ever came up was when we wanted to put a hecksher [kosher stamp] from the London Beit Din on the product. They told us we’d have to edit our label because according to local law at the time, nothing could be exported from the UAE if it referenced Israel, had Hebrew writing or said ‘kosher.’”
Yet once Finkel’s religion and country of residence became known, it wasn’t a problem at all. In fact, he said, “when we met at the factory in Dubai, we had two days of marathon negotiations, and we talked very openly and fondly about the similarities between our two cultures. They bent over backwards to make sure I had kosher food.”
Interestingly, the word “Israel” appears nowhere on the label—and that’s no accident.
“Our product is inspired by Israel,” Finkel said. “It has roots in the Bible and originates from the land of milk and honey, but this has broader appeal than just Jewish or Israeli.”
In fact, most date syrup—if it doesn’t originate in either California or Israel—comes from an Arab country, generally Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia or Algeria.
“Date honey is lower on the glycemic index than bee honey,” he said. “For people watching their sugar, dates are a healthy source of anti-oxidants and fiber. My father, for example, can eat date products but not table sugar. Unlike bee honey, it’s safe for babies—and it’s vegan.”
Finkel said he has worked with Tunisian and Algerian date producers, through third parties of course, but that “ever since we made the decision to move away from California because it was price-prohibitive, we were basically looking for someone who could make quality product at the right price. The Dubai guys are the best. Not only are they the easiest to work with, they also do everything A to Z—all the bottling, on-site packaging and even printing.”
Finkel said D’Vash products are currently sold in 6,500 stores across the United States. But now he’s starting to sell to Canada, and is also launching a test run with Costco outlets in San Diego, Texas and the southeastern US.
“We typically have sold only syrups, but we’re now starting to get into new products,” he said. “If the Costco test runs go well, we could easily break into the high seven figures in the next year or two, because they order in such massive quantities.”