Fans of bananas and other fruits find Dole Food to be a-peel-ing. The company is the world's largest producer of fresh fruit and vegetables, known best for bananas, pineapples, and tropical produce. Some 200 food products are sourced, grown, processed, marketed, and distributed in 90-plus countries. The lineup is produced by the company or through associated producers, and marketed under DOLE and non-DOLE name brands to supermarkets, mass merchandisers, wholesalers, and foodservice operators. Dole also produces a growing line of packaged cut fruit, salads, canned and frozen fruit, and juices. The company traces its roots back to 1851, when James Dole founded a pineapple growing and canning company in Hawaii.
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.
The company contends with few Goliaths -- primarily Chiquita Brands and Fresh Del Monte Produce -- making the entire business of growing to processing highly competitive. 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 32 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 fall 2011 the company acquired SunnyRidge Farm, Inc., one of the premium fresh blueberry companies in the US.
Nonetheless, Dole is squeezed by volatile prices for commodities, energy, and labor coupled with swings in consumer demand. Following a 30% tumble in earnings in 2009 from 2008, Dole posted a loss in 2010 -- its third in five years -- on relatively flat year-over-year sales. Results were impacted a higher benefit from asset sales and hedging gains in 2009 versus 2010. The company's bottom line also took a hit from extremely low operating earnings attributable to fresh fruit segment (hurt by lower banana production worldwide). The damage was mitigated by a rise in its fresh vegetables and packaged foods segments, which have room for higher pricing and a stronger mix of products. In light of its equity, Dole's debt is also unfavorable -- more than $1.4 billion. The company's ability to keep up with its obligations, moreover, is limited by reduced cash generated from operations compared to 2009.
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.
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 58% 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.