It is a sweet story, but it’s also one of determination – bringing a unique concept to fruition. Shatha Al Jabri – co-founder of Meshan Dates and Sweets tells us how belief in an idea and hard work has taken the brand places.
We all know dates are an integral part of Omani culture. But Shatha Al Jabri and her three sisters took what was available in plenty and turned the fruit into exotic sweets and confectionery, and what has become a well-known brand, Meshan Dates & Sweets. Within a short span of time, Meshan has become a brand to be reckoned with and an SME that’s going places!
The idea took root in 2011, when Shatha along with her sister, Wafa Al Jabri decided to use dates to make exotic sweets. It was something the Omani market had not experienced before. They started from home with two of their other sisters joining in. The team of four used Omani dates to make crafted date sweets and truffles, with bursts of exotic flavours that looked just like little chocolates but were healthier and in essence, truly Omani.
“There were some challenges; not many people were welcoming of the idea of dates presented in different shapes and flavours. But in course of time, as they sampled our products, they became convinced and soon began presenting our date sweets at weddings, functions and as gifts,” says Shatha. As the demand for their unique date confections grew, they felt the need to move into bigger premises. They rented a bigger place, and now four years on, their products have tantalised many taste-buds along the way.
Speaking about what inspired the venture, Shatha says, “We perceived that Omani dates were not given much value in the market. Which was sad because Omani dates are of very high quality. So we decided to give ‘exotic’ touches to Omani dates, shaping them into treats that were superior in quality and also matched international standards.”
What does Meshan mean? A meshan is a basket made of date palm which is traditionally used to gift fresh fruits. It was Shatha’s mother who came up with the name; the underlying concept being that the products sold by Meshan Dates and Sweets were gifts. Shatha and Wafa have since come to be fondly known as the Meshan sisters.
A little over a month ago, they opened their first Meshan Café, a chic and cosy lounge located in Al Masa Mall. There is excitement writ large on Shatha Al Jabri’s face and one can sense a strong feeling of pride as she shows us around the Café. The place is brightly lit up; the décor is a subtle blend of the modern and the traditional with various elements of Oman thrown in, to achieve the ‘Made in Oman’ look which is what ‘dates’ and Meshan is all about.
Painted in hues of gold, navy blue and black, and dotted with Omani antiques, the cafe offers an array of date sweets – 14 flavours in all – date lollipops for kids and desserts made exclusively in the Meshan kitchen. Of the flavours, Shatha says, “We took inspiration from different flavours in Omani culture. For example, Luban (frankincense) has never been associated with sweets. But we went ahead, and tried it with dates. We also know that some flavours like cappuccino and toffee-caramel go well with chocolate, but since our concept is to provide dates as a healthy substitute for chocolate, we incorporated these flavours within dates.”
The cafe also has a lounge-like seating area designed for business meetings or coffee meetings with friends in mind.
Over the years, Meshan has received a lot of support from ministries and private organisations. “They understood that we as Omani women, had set out to do something different. When you have new ideas, many are willing to support you.” Winner of the 2014 Riyada Award for Best SME in the Trade Sector, Meshan has the support of the Ministry of Agriculture by way of farmer recommendations and branding and that of Al Raffd Fund and Zubair Small Enterprises Centre in setting up their first ever Meshan Cafe.
Apart from supplying corporate gifts, Meshan provides date sweets for Oman Air’s first and Business Class and also to the Muscat, Salalah and Bangkok airport lounges and many ministry offices.
Shatha Al Jabri has big dreams – of opening more Meshan outlets in Oman and hopes to eventually take Meshan’s luxury date sweets global.