In June 2020, the Ireland-headquartered fruit company, Dole Worldwide Packaged Foods, announced its promise to rise to the global challenges of sustainable nutrition, climate change, resource waste, and declining natural resources. To speed things up, Dole launched the Sunshine for All Investment Fund earlier this year, which sets aside $2 million annually to build strategic partnerships with innovators, startups, and other enterprises that can help achieve “The Dole Promise” key objectives.
We spoke with Dr. Lara Ramdin, Chief Innovation Officer for Dole Worldwide Packaged Foods and Barbara Guerpillon, Global Head of Ventures for Dole Packaged Foods and Asia Fresh, to shed some light on how Dole is leveraging innovation to achieve a more sustainable future.
The Dole Promise includes goals such as increasing access to nutritious foods for 1 billion people; moving towards zero fruit loss and zero fossil-based plastic packaging by 2025; and net zero carbon emissions by 2030, and advancing human rights within its operations and supply chains.
Q&A with Dr. Lara Ramdin, Chief Innovation Officer for Dole Worldwide Packaged Foods
Are there any examples of projects that you can talk about that relate to Dole’s sustainability goals?
We are involved in looking into a major packaging and transformation. We said, “OK, we’re not the experts in trying to reduce our dependency on things like fossil fuel packaging.” If we want a major transformation, we’re going to need to bring in the right people and work with the right partners. We are…learning from other people about how to go about incorporating this idea of “no fruit left behind” and using fruit waste positively. I have a colleague who leads the specialty ingredients division. His job is to look at how [to] use other parts of the fruit to lead to other things, in terms of circularity, other than providing nutrition. He’s looking at the fibers on the outside of the pineapple—could that lead to packaging material?
If we want a major transformation, we’re going to need to bring in the right people and work with the right partners.
What has been the most helpful in getting buy-in for these new sustainability goals from employees across the organization?
I think one of the most engaging things that we’ve done so far is our [Sunshine for All Cities] program. So, for example, Jackson, Mississippi, has a supermarket for one in every 20,000 people…if you’re growing up in Jackson, you don’t always have access to fruit and vegetables. So Dole went into Jackson…and we made fruit and vegetables more accessible with farmers markets. But at the same time, we also worked with the Girls and Boys Club, and showed young people how to cook with fruits and vegetables. That, certainly for my team and I, was the bit where we said, “Wow, this is really having an impact.”
Do you have any pieces of advice for teams that are looking to drive sustainability through innovation?
My number one advice, in general, is to stay curious. Number two is, don’t be afraid of open innovation. If you’d asked me this about 10 years ago, I would have said, “In order to be able to execute against this goal, I need to build this capability internally.” And, I don’t think like that anymore. What I think like now is, “OK, we don’t know how to do this ourselves; I’m going to go and find out somebody who can”—which is [a] very different model, a very different way of looking at things. But actually, for me, [it] has been probably more rewarding in many cases. The third thing I would say is…in terms of achieving sustainability goals, always be really clear that it is possible.
Q&A with Barbara Guerpillon, Global Head of Ventures for Dole Packaged Foods and Asia Fresh
What types of investments are you making for Dole Ventures?
We’re looking at social enterprise and NGOs that can help us to read the gap between technology and access to food and nutrition. We’re currently exploring working with Green Pod Labs…[and]…also talking to companies like Tropic Biosciences. [There are] at least eight startups that we have in our pipeline specifically for [food] shelf life. We are also looking [at] how can we optimize our irrigation processes on water? [And] how can we look at new solutions to reduce water usage when we rinse off a product? Zero fossil-based plastic [is] a big, big part of our agenda, and [we have] more long-term based projects around carbon sequestration. So, everything around regenerative agriculture—there is currently a startup from the US—extremely early stage—which we are very excited about. And hopefully, I’ll be able to talk to you about it within two or three months.
Give us a sense of the vetting process your team uses to find the startups that are going to fit with your goals, specifically for the Sunshine for All™ Investment Fund.
…We have a very open mindset; we don’t know what we don’t know. And by nature, I’m extremely curious. So it’s very rare that I don’t accept a call or look at a presentation for startups. The reality is if you are a pre-Series A type of startup, you are more likely to have a product which is ready to be tested. If you are in the seed stage and early stage…our support and help with you will be slightly different. The big priority is really about experimentation and running the pilot.
Having support of the senior management is a must-have, but sometimes people forget to share the learnings with the rest of the organization. Don’t forget to embark everyone on that journey in a meaningful way…
Are there any tips for corporates who might be running venture funds that you’d like to share that have been helpful to you?
We have chosen, at the moment, the path of partnerships and collaboration. But I fully understand and agree that there [are] many ways to do corporate venturing. I think the most important thing is to get clarity on the objective that you want to achieve and define what success looks like, for you and for your stakeholders as well. And don’t be afraid to revisit those goals as you progress. But also, there is something that I think people are not talking enough about, whether it’s a [corporate venture capital program] or corporate innovation. Having support of the senior management is a must-have, but sometimes people forget to share the learnings with the rest of the organization. Don’t forget to embark everyone on that journey in a meaningful way without overwhelming people.
Do you have any tips for teams that are looking to use innovation as a way to pursue sustainability goals?
Yes. I think you have to acknowledge the fact that you cannot do it alone. When you talk about transforming an organization towards a more sustainable way of doing business, it has to be extremely inclusive, and extremely aware of the ecosystem we are playing with. So when you set up your ambitions and your goals for sustainability, don’t be afraid to talk about the current situation, your current baseline. We are all here to learn, especially when it comes to, for example, carbon footprint calculation. This is new to everyone; there are some entrepreneurs and companies who have more experience. So we need to reach out to them. We need to connect with each other to really share all those learnings and progress and revisit those ambitions from time to time.