With a history rooted in pineapple plantations, Dole Food has become the world's largest producer of fresh fruit and vegetables. Recognized by its Dole label on bananas, pineapples, and tropical produce, the company boasts some 200 food products that are sourced, grown, processed, marketed, and distributed in 90-plus countries. Items are produced by Dole or its associated producers and marketed under Dole and other brand names to supermarkets, mass merchandisers, wholesalers, and food service operators. Dole also markets a line of packaged cut fruit, salads, canned and frozen fruit, and juices. The company was founded in 1851 and was taken private in late 2013 by CEO David Murdock.
Change in Company Type
Chairman and CEO David Murdock in November 2013 bought the 60% of Dole's shares he didn't already own, thereby taking the company private. The unsolicited offer of $13.50 per share in cash valued the company at nearly $1.6 billion. (Previously, Murdock took the company private in 2003.)
Dole operates its business through three segments: fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and packaged foods. The fresh fruit segment consists of several operating divisions that produce and market fresh fruit to wholesale, retail, and institutional customers globally. The fresh vegetables segment also produces and markets fresh-packed and value-added vegetables and salads, as well as berries, to wholesale, retail, and institutional customers primarily located in North America and Europe. The packaged foods segment comprises operating divisions that produce and market packaged foods, such as fruit juices, frozen fruit, and healthy snack foods.
Dole's operations today are multinational, spanning 117,000 acres of farms and other holdings, including thousands of acres of farmland in Hawaii and peach orchards in California. Worldwide, the company owns more than 1 million sq. ft. of vegetable processing facilities. Its packaged food operations encompass nearly double that in square foot manufacturing space. Dole also operates the largest dedicated, refrigerated, containerized fleet in the world.
Not surprisingly, Dole leads the market in many of the sectors and regions its serves. In North America it holds the #1 market position in bananas, cauliflower, celery, iceberg lettuce, and packaged fruit products. Producing roughly 150 million boxes of bananas each year, the company dominates the US with a third of the market; in Japan it boasts slightly under a third. Dole produces more than 33 million boxes of pineapple, trailing only Fresh Del Monte Produce in that segment.
Dole fends off rivals by both exploiting its capabilities to deliver produce at a lower cost and focusing on a high-growth, value-added segments. Specifically, consumer preferences for convenient, tasty, pre-cut fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables are outstripping demand for bulk fresh produce. Indeed, Dole has managed to increase the percentage of its value-added product sales, offering bagged vegetables and salads, ready-to-eat salads, and individual fruit servings packaged in plastic cups and bowls. To this end, in 2011 the company acquired SunnyRidge Farm, Inc., one of the premium fresh blueberry companies in the US.
With more than 1 million sq. ft. of vegetable processing plants worldwide, Dole is always looking for ways to keep costs down. Going forward, Dole is restructuring its fresh fruit segment in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. It aims to cut costs by better matching fruit supply with forecast demand. Some $21.3 million in restructuring charges taken in 2010 are anticipated to result in $37 million in savings in early fiscal 2011. Most of the savings are based on lower production costs, particularly labor, increased farm productivity, along with slashed distribution, and selling and general administrative costs.
Sales and Marketing
The company contends with few Goliaths (primarily Chiquita Brands and Fresh Del Monte Produce), making the entire business -- from growing to processing -- highly competitive.
Dole has regional sales organizations dedicated to servicing major retail and wholesale customers. The company also enlists the help of brokers in certain regions to sell packaged fruit products and packaged salads.
Dole spent $27 million in fiscal 2012 on advertising and marketing costs, included in selling, marketing, and general and administrative expenses for continuing operations. The company uses consumer advertising, marketing, and trade spending to promote new items, bolster its brand awareness, and promote nutrition knowledge.
Dole is squeezed by volatile prices for commodities, energy, and labor coupled with swings in consumer demand.
Revenues for Dole dropped 11% in fiscal 2012 as compared to 2011. The fresh fruit segment spurred a 16% decline in revenues due to several factors. Banana sales dropped $16 million primarily due to lower pricing in North America partially offset by volume gains in Europe. Unfavorable Euro and Swedish krona foreign currency exchange movements caused decreases in sales across its European ripening and distribution operations. Local pricing gains weren't enough to improve Dole's results there. Net losses of $144 million during the same reporting period were attributable to decreases in revenues and operating income. Fresh fruit operating income dropped primarily due to lower earnings in Dole's North America banana operations offset in part by higher earnings from Dole Europe's banana operations and North America fresh pineapple operations. Operating income among the company's fresh vegetables business dropped due to lower pricing in all major fresh-packed vegetable product lines. This was offset, however, by higher earnings of packaged salads.
To cut debt further, Dole in 2013 sold its worldwide packaged foods and Asia Fresh Produce businesses to ITOCHU for about $1.7 billion in cash. The two businesses accounted for some $2.5 billion in revenues. The sale to ITOCHU received unconditional approval from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.
The company's direction, in large part, is driven by David Murdock. Murdock, who has served as chairman of the company since 1985, owns about 40% of the company. He controls interests in real estate and other businesses, as well, through holding company Castle & Cooke. The self-made billionaire is known for his activities funding nutritional and medical research.