It always starts when we’re young. As sponge-like children thirsty for flavors and hungry for foods both familiar and foreign, we often carry the emotions tied to our sensory experiences with us the rest of our days. Some of us find enjoyment in nostalgia, and some build a livelihood out of it.
Atlas Produce Founder Robert Dobrzanski tells me the first seed of his interest in agriculture and produce was planted early.
“When I was a kid, I would go to my grandmother’s house, and she would do yoga, was vegan, and had all of these healthy practices well before they were trendy. There was, what I thought as a kid, no good food,” Robert laughs, as he recollects his time at her house. “My grandmother would ask me what I wanted, and I’d tell her that I wanted something sweet. She would go to the cupboard and get me some dates. She taught me about dates as a kid—about their sustainable energy—and all I could think was how they tasted like caramel.”
That initial seed of interest flourished and is now a full-on love for, and belief in, the date industry. For Robert, the date business is more than just a product to supply end-consumers—it’s a way of life. Atlas Produce has undergone extensive introspection and analysis of what it means to eat well—both encouraging what is healthy and promoting a snack that feels indulgent. With its brand, Fresh Energy™ Medjool Dates, the company aims to do just that by becoming more than a produce company, but a lifestyle brand.
We are a great alternative snack to what's available in the current marketplace since what we offer is fresh, natural, and healthy.
—Robert Dobrzanski, Founder, Atlas Produce
“Fresh Energy is a lifestyle—it’s people looking for snacking alternatives that are easy to eat, taste great, and are healthy. Our product has no additives, is 100 percent natural, offers minerals, is antioxidant-rich, and is high in potassium. The natural sugar, though, is really interesting, because it is really low on the glycemic index. The body doesn’t release all of the sugars at once with dates, allowing consumers to avoid a sugar high and then a low crash—this is sustainable energy. It’s fresh energy.”
When Robert first jumped into the date industry in 2003, household penetration was very low. Over the last 10 years, the company has seen double-digit growth. There is still much room to develop this segment, he tells me, and the company is doing it with its Fresh Energy branded Californian dates.
The latest products packed under the California-grown and Coachella, California-based Fresh Energy brand are Organic Pitted Medjool, Organic Whole Medjool, Organic Bite-Sized Date Rolls, Organic Medjool Date Pieces, and Organic Paste, which all come in conventional, too.
“The Coachella Valley has been my stomping grounds for over 25 years, and I love it. The Valley is full of extremes, and the Fresh Energy dates bring out the best aspects of this. The desert can be very harsh, but our sweet and succulent fruit comes from the same place,” Robert tells me of his dates’ origin story. “We call out Coachella on all of our products’ labeling for obvious reasons. Not only is the Coachella Valley the biggest date growing region in California, but it also happens to be the host city for one of the biggest music festivals in the country. ‘Coachella’ has now become a media buzzword. It has been great because Coachella Valley water and land work well for grape and date growers, but now people actually know where our dates come from, which is pretty cool.”
The journey has been a healthy combination of work and play for Robert, with boosts of energizing motivation and encouragement at every turn. A child of immigrants from Poland with a father well-established in the oil business, Robert carved out his own path to success, one that has been accomplished by hard work and a welcoming disposition.
Robert’s interest in agriculture started early. As a teen, he worked in the fields picking tomatoes and table grapes. After graduating from University of California, Davis with a degree in Agricultural and Managerial Economics, Robert stepped into the industry with his first job at Sun World® in Coachella, where date grower Eleanor Faulk took him under her wing and taught him all about the industry.
Fresh Energy is a lifestyle—it's people looking for snacking alternatives that are easy to eat, taste great, and are healthy.
“I’m the American Dream!” he laughs. “I had an opportunity to get into the date deal, so I took it. Before I started Atlas, I worked for Sun World and got familiar with the process—the growing and handling of dates. Then, I started my own company after working at Sun World and Castle Rock selling grapes. The table grape deal was and still is my passion, then the date deal happened. I had a college buddy investing in dates, so we got together to get something in the works. I started my marketing company to sell dates and grapes, primarily as a marketer.”
Since he first came onto the scene with Atlas, business has steadily progressed as dates find their way into more households. The branded approach, rather than bulk, is more eye-catching for consumers, consequently leading to more sales of Fresh Energy products, Robert tells me.
“We are seeing great growth. It has been nice, sustainable, and double-digit growth year-upon-year for the past 10 years. More people are eating dates because they want to eat healthy. That circles back to our Fresh Energy concept—why we are doing what we’re doing,” he explains.
Building his business with meticulous strategy, Robert tells me that right now, summer is the time to plan for upcoming promotional opportunities.
“During this time period, retailers are setting their winter holiday calendars. We are a great alternative snack to what’s available in the current marketplace since what we offer is fresh, natural, and healthy,” he says, before mapping out different courses of action retailers can take to gain optimal sales of Atlas products.
To provide the tools for success, Atlas offers new point of sales and marketing materials, alongside other business assets that retailers can use to boost sales during the holidays and year-round. The company also provides a free shipper display for the holidays, which includes a high-graphic design and a list of health benefits to attract athletes using a lot of energy, on-the-go parents looking for healthy snacks, tiny tots wanting to appease their sweet teeth, and every shopper in between. The company also has coupons that retailers can tap into, and tasting events will be popping up with key retail partners during the holiday season. While they are an expensive investment to make, tastings build the category overall, Robert explains.
Atlas has been a great ambassador and champion of Californian dates and has helped in the growth of the date industry.
“Participating in tastings, when consumers can really try what we have to offer, is really good for the industry. I am putting our name and product out there for everyone to try,” he shares. “I’m an advocate of the California date deal. If they thrive, we’re going to thrive. I rely on a lot of our associate growers to bring us their fruit, and with our own production increasing and our growth, I need to have good relationships with all of the date growers. We’re all in this together.”
This passion for dates is a branch off the idea that with healthy eating comes a better quality of life—a core value that Robert’s work embodies. Dates, he tells me, are increasingly becoming a sugar replacement, as they make their way into more cooking and baking applications. In addition to this, the company promotes its potassium-, mineral-, and antioxidant-rich dates that make heart-healthy, gluten-free, and super-food diets easier and more accessible than ever before. The opportunity to grow lies in perpetuating the message that happier living is a result of healthier habits, he shares. It’s about finding a way to bring Fresh Energy to consumers, driving an industry-wide growth in the process.
With so much going on with Atlas, it is almost hard to believe that Robert has his hand in the cattle industry, too, with his own cattle ranch in Bishop, California, on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada region. True to form, it’s all about family for Robert—how to grow together as a team to make the whole industry shine. Alongside his four children and wife, the family takes on more and more to increase growth opportunities, but it always comes back to dates for Robert.
“What I love about it is that we can expand the Fresh Energy concept to so many items. That’s what I mean when I say it is a lifestyle brand. That’s where we are seeing our growth going forward—finding new avenues for people to enjoy dates! Atlas has been a great ambassador and champion of Californian dates and has helped in the growth of the date industry,” Robert shares.
Life has come full circle for Robert—as he focuses on his flourishing business in an industry to which his grandmother introduced him and from which he has found so much fulfillment—with Fresh Energy dates to dazzle the masses.