Taste experience in Middle East led Lorena Prakash to start her business

Calgary Herald 12 Dec 2016 DAVID PARKER David Parker appears regularly in the Herald. Read his columns online at business. He can be reached at 403-830-4622 or by email at [email protected]

Holidays are often times when we get to relax and look at the life we are leading, and wonder if there is something else we would rather be doing — then we forget about it until the next vacation, returning home to the same job.

Lorena Prakash took an exciting trip to visit relatives in Dubai and did not forget the experience of tasting dates the likes of which she had never had the opportunity to try before.

Fascinated and inspired by the number of varieties and the presentation of so many wrapped around nuts, goat cheese and orange peel, she decided to research importing them to Calgary and selling them here.
It took well over a year but today the Date Lady has established a flourishing business marketing boxes of delicious, healthy dates in stores here and in Canmore and Winnipeg, and also ships throughout Canada.

Born in England, Prakash grew up in Winnipeg where she earned her MBA at the University of Manitoba and where she began her career in media in promotions at Global TV, communications with Canwest Global and then with the Winnipeg Sun in marketing and special projects. Moving to Calgary in 2008, she was in sales with Corus Entertainment for five years. Since her career in sales she has taught creating brand intelligence and evidence-based marketing at the Bisset School of Business and still instructs at SAIT in business dynamics, IT computer science and technical communications.

She has great faith in her marketing skills but launching a food-based business meant a lot of research and understanding of government regulations.

Prakash had to take a provincial government food safety course and was then assigned a helpful venture specialist to guide her through the twists and turns of setting up the business. She applied for and received a Growing Forward government grant to tide her through the length of time it took her to finally register Duzu Dates last fall.
A lady with a passion for exercise and good health — she ran her first New York Marathon this year — Prakash naturally has a keen interest in good foods and has discovered that dates are extremely beneficial to health.

Dates are one of the oldest of cultivated foods, and can be traced back to around 3,000 BC in Mesopotamia. The name derived from the Sumerian Dumuzid, God of Food and Vegetation. It was later shortened to Du’zu, and with the removal of an apostrophe Prakash decided upon the company name of Duzu.

And they really are healthy — especially the Medjool dates that is the principal variety used in boxes of Duzu Dates.Low in fat and high in potassium, they are also high in fibre, minerals and B-complex vitamins.

There are more than 400 varieties of dates, but Prakash chose the large, moist and nutritious organically grown Medjools — the King of Dates — that she sources from Oasis Gardens in California.
After countless hours of testing, she settled on filling her first two selections with roasted almonds and crystallized ginger.

They must be pitted by hand in a kitchen she rents in Marda Loop and then driven over to Bernard Callebaut of Master Chocolat, to be enrobed in his finest semi-sweet dark or milk chocolate. Then it’s back to the kitchen to be wrapped, boxed and delivered to retail outlets that include Save-On-Foods and Calgary Co-op.

Prakash is going great guns to say thanks to help from SAIT culinary staff and students, and army of volunteers and business assistance form people such as Tony James, who lets her use his World Wide Foods warehouse to store her dates.

Now she is looking for more retailers and new markets such as weddings and corporate gifting — I was offered a Duzu after lunch at Il Chianti Restaurant on Edmonton Trail — while experimenting with other varieties such as the smaller, creamy caramel-tasting Barhi dates.