David DeLorenzo, president and chief executive officer of Dole Food Co., sees the ongoing rollout of healthy products as Dole’s biggest achievement this year.
As the world’s largest producer and marketer of fresh fruits and vegetables, it might not seem that this goal would pose a challenge. But, there is always space for innovation and new ideas.
Earlier this year, Dole rolled out shelf-stable fruit cups packed in 100% juice, replacing the product’s previous syrup packing. Shoppers have noticed. DeLorenzo said that category growth, market share, unit sales and dollar sales are up for those products.
“So I think what it really shows is that the consumer is looking for and welcoming more nutritious products. And so that was a very welcome shift for us and a very big initiative for the company,” said DeLorenzo.
And, Dole’s product innovation will continue, with the rollout of products such as a blendless probiotic smoothie shaker and “Fresh Lock Fruit Cups” that use a proprietary freezing system that DeLorenzo said will keep fruit from melting when thawed.
In line with its health and wellness initiatives, Dole has also continued to work with the government and other groups to fund salad bars in schools.
Meanwhile, Dole continues nutrient and micronutrient research, including a study looking at how fruit and vegetables affect the metabolomics of Olympic swimmers.
In addition to its product announcements, Dole also launched a new sustainability and corporate responsibility website earlier this month dolecrs.com. “We thought it was an opportunity to showcase some of the things we’re doing. Those are just continuing ongoing efforts,” said DeLorenzo. “They’ve been very rewarding, and of course, it’s good business.”
Like many companies, Dole is currently facing the dual challenges of sluggish economic growth in Western countries paired with rising commodity costs.
“It’s been a challenge for us to keep our costs in line as much as possible, despite the inflation of all the commodity costs and to continue the growth we’d like to see,” said DeLorenzo.
However, Europe’s E. coli outbreak this spring didn’t affect Dole’s sales. DeLorenzo said there was a slowdown of fresh product sales in Northern Europe, but the outbreak had very little impact on the company’s biggest product in the region, bananas. “We have a salad business up in Sweden and Finland that surprisingly was not impacted by what was going on in the continent. So overall, it hasn’t been too bad, but it was a terrible incident,” said DeLorenzo.
Overall, DeLorenzo is optimistic about the company’s financial future. “On the financial side, we continue to pay down debt. We’ve done some refinancing. So on the balance sheet side of the company, things are continuing to go real well,” he said. Dole has continued to chip away at its net debt, which has fallen from $2.48 billion in March 2008 to $1.45 billion this March.
And, after ending 2010 with a tough couple of quarters, Dole reported an $80 million increase in revenue for the first quarter of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010. The gains were mostly due to price increases, but regardless, net income for the first quarter of 2011 was up $39 million compared with the fourth quarter of 2010.
DeLorenzo told SN that Dole’s second-quarter financial results, which haven’t been announced yet, have been very good and continued to follow the first quarter’s trends.