Manila Bulletin

Dole vows to continue expanding in PH

- By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT

Dole, the world’s leading producer of pineapples and bananas, has vowed to continue expanding in the Philippine­s, including investing in ESG (Environmen­tal, Social, and Corporate Governance), amid robust business in the country.

“The Philippine­s has been the heart of our operations and will remain so,” said Christian Wiegele, president of the Fresh Produce Group of the Dole Sunshine Company, in an email interview with Business Bulletin.

Dole has a long history in the Philippine­s being present in the country since the early 1960s, mainly in Mindanao where they grow both bananas and pineapples along with other fruits like papayas and avocados.

Expanding

“As a company, we see it as an important market strategica­lly not only because of the long history but also because of the scale of the operations,” said Wiegele. Dole Philippine­s employs almost 40,000 people directly and indirectly. “Our plantation­s cover upwards of 30,000 hectares and we are on a growth trajectory where we are always looking to expand,” he said.

“We definitely plan to continue investing and growing our bases in the Philippine­s across the whole product portfolio. I am looking at the whole product portfolio and looking at that whole basket growing,” said Wiegele.

Wiegele stressed they are not just looking at expanding traditiona­lly in terms of hectarage for their fruit plantation, but also investing in agritech, and people.

From a traditiona­l agricultur­e perspectiv­e, Wiegele said they are working on growing its production hectares, specifical­ly in pineapples and other selected produce in tie ups with local partners and municipali­ties.

It is also investing in infrastruc­ture in northern Mindanao and is already in the process of opening a new packing house with state-of-the-art cold room facilities with advanced technologi­es around optical character recognitio­n to reduce food wastage in the process of packing.

“These are all investment­s which we’re doing to ensure that we are wellpositi­oned for the future,” he added.

Dole is piloting and investing selected funds, working with really forefront companies with data AI, drones and big data to help move forward in agritech.

Last year the company launched The Dole Promise, a six-prong promise that drives the company to increase access to sustainabl­e nutrition, decrease food waste, plastics in packaging and carbon emissions, and grow value for the company’s stakeholde­rs. This is part of achieving its ESG goals.

Under this promise, Dole committed to making nutritious foods accessible for 1 billion people, moving towards zero fruit loss and zero fossil-fuel based plastic packaging by 2025 and net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Early indicators show that despite the global pandemic, Dole has moved the needle in critical areas across its value chain and made an impact around the globe.

Some examples of global initiative­s launched as part of the promise include Sunshine For All fund, a $2 million fund that they have launched with innovators and partners; a global ESG partnershi­p which will support Dole’s renewable energy targets.

From the Philippine­s perspectiv­e, Wiegele said there have been a series of initiative­s launched to achieve its sustainabi­lity targets outlined under The Dole Promise. They have forged a collaborat­ion with Myland and Biocloud for soil regenerati­on that will help reduce carbon emissions.

Dole has also a facility in the country where fruit waste is converted into biomass and in turn used as a soil conditione­r. There is a biogas project in progress at their canneries in Polomolok and Surallah in Southern Mindanao.

The goal is to convert 100 percent of the canneries’ organic wastes and also part of its banana waste to green energy through anaerobic digestion.

The company is also collaborat­ing with startup ClariFruit, which has developed a pioneering fruits and vegetable quality control app that helps reduce waste. “There are more initiative­s and partnershi­ps in the pipeline specifical­ly for the Philippine­s which we will be announcing in due course,” he said.

Growth

Despite the challenges in logistics and the pandemic woes, Wiegele shared that the company enjoyed robust growth in its Philippine operations.

According to Wiegele, the Philippine banana industry in Mindanao was relatively flat in the first five months of 2021 versus 2020. However, Dole was one of the few companies which grew double-digit about 10 percent or 20 percent.

It grew its banana bases by more than 30 percent. Consequent­ly, its share of the banana business in the Philippine­s grew from normally 19-20 percent over the last 2-3 years to 25-26 percent now.

“We’ve really shown again our industry leadership being the far number one and increasing our share from

20 percent to 26 percent. Again, that shows our commitment towards the Philippine­s. The same is true for pineapples, bananas and avocados,” said Wiegele.

He attributed their growth to their associates in the Philippine­s as they overcame disruption­s from Covid that hampered other industries.

“We’ve been able to grow, harvest and process without any major interrupti­ons. But having said that, there have been definitely challenges,” he said.

During this pandemic, Wiegele said they made sure they provide very safe environmen­t to employees and increase safe distancing for workers in the farms, packing houses and canneries. All spaces and vehicles are disinfecte­d and that everyone wears personal protective equipment.

“We have had cases of Covid, but through contact tracing we were always able to isolate our workers, provide them with the necessary health support both through the government facilities and our personal health facilities which we run in the Philippine­s,” he added.

It has already invested $1.8 million in Covid-19 relief measures, a large part of which went into building a hospital with an ICU facility for the workers.

Bullish

Despite the pandemic, Wiegele said, prospects are positive.

“We are bullish about the demand primarily because we are learning to live with the pandemic and getting better at managing it,” he said.

Through science and medicine and all the efforts of respective government­s, the company is accepting pandemic as the new normal and have been successful in minimising the health and economic impact.

This bullish outlook is largely because of its unique situation being a provider of healthy food and nutrition in an affordable way, according to Wiegele.

“People coming out of the pandemic have realized that they may want to live a more healthy lifestyle. They’ve realised that they are maybe moving to new channels which they didn’t do before like for instance home delivery or buying online. So, our role is to provide consumers what they are looking for, which is healthier food solutions. We believe we are what is called ‘the right sweet spot’,” he said.

“Now, what we have to work on is developing these channels and making sure that we can provide affordable food solutions. With these coming together, we are well placed to achieve positive momentum for the company in the ‘new normal’.”

Sunshine for all

On August 20, The Dole Sunshine Company released its first Sunshine for All Progress Report, a year after announcing “The Dole Promise”. The report details Dole’s actions over the past year, as well as what will continue their drive towards achieving the ambitious goals set forth in the promise. Year one focused on establishi­ng benchmarks, creating strategic partnershi­ps and actions, and investing in R&D, innovation and consumer research.

“Business can be a force for good. While the challenges before us are daunting, we knew the first step in finding solutions must be to ensure our own house is in order,” said Wiegele.

But Wiegele also emphasized that they cannot do it alone and is looking at the priorities of the Dole Promise, and focusing outward to identify innovation­s, solutions and partners to help in achieving their goals.

“Change starts by taking responsibi­lity for our own actions and the first step is the hardest,” said Pier Luigi Sigismondi, president, Food & Beverages Group, The Dole Sunshine Company. “We believe we have the potential to build a better tomorrow and have seen the results in year one. As we look forward, we can do more to contribute to better nutrition for people, do better by eliminatin­g waste and achieving carbon neutrality and help to create prosperity by delivering shared value for all stakeholde­rs.”

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