Managing Director of Dole Thailand talks about keys to success in fruit juice business.

Simon Denye stresses integrity and quality through the whole supply chain is the best way to compete.

Mr. Simon Denye , Managing Director of Dole Thailand
Mr. Simon Denye , Managing Director of Dole Thailand

Could you give some background on the fruit juice industry in the ASEAN countries?

“ASEAN community is very credible economically. Six-hundred millions people live in ASEAN that is approximately 10 percent of the world’s population. This is a major area of economic growth that will continue.

Because it is rich in agriculture, we can expect a lot of food and juice to be produced here. In Thailand there are about 30 pineapple canneries and there are more companies that are processing and involved in the juice business. In pineapple, about half of it comes out solid for the pineapple rings and about half comes out as juice. It is the natural process that you cannot avoid producing juice. The solid pack has a slightly higher value than the juice but the juice is still extremely important to us because it is such a large volume.

Dole Thailand mainly focusses on pineapples. Over 95 percent of our products goes overseas. And we have to meet standards of the USA, Europe and countries like Japan and Korea. I would say probably Japan is a country that sets the highest standards for food safety, food hygiene and food quality.”

Staff collect mature pineapples at Dole Thai plantation.
Staff collect mature pineapples at Dole Thai plantation.

How does quality do matter in fruit juice industry?

“Thailand generally has a very good reputation when it comes to fruit quality and juice quality. So we are lucky that we naturally have that good reputation behind us. Dole, in particular, has a very high reputation for quality. Jim Dole, the founder of the company of a hundred and thirty years ago, put quality first. He decided that integrity and quality was the best way to compete. Obviously, our industry is competitive and we have to be competitive. Everybody is fighting for a share of the market for a share of the customers. And how do we do that? We have to be competitive on costs, obviously, and we have to have the volumes that the customers want, and more than everything we have to have quality.

It is no surprise that in the food or beverage industry quality is absolutely paramount. And that is quality both in the safety context and then the context of fit for purpose and taste. Customers have a taste expectation which is sometimes subjective. They have a fit for purpose expectation. Does it meet the specs or expected standard? And, then, they have a safety expectation that cannot be unhealthy in some ways and not contaminated at all. Dole takes that extremely seriously. We take no chances when it comes to fruit safety. At the end of the day, the customers record if that ever happens.”

Staff cuts pineapple crowns at Dole Thai plantation.
Staff cuts pineapple crowns at Dole Thai plantation.

How can quality in fruit juice be maintained?

“Our customers buy from us because they know that we stand for quality and we make a big deal of that quality. And we have procedure and processes in place like assurance and audits.  We have a whole framework of quality insurance which we call a nickname is ‘from farm to fork’ which means we are concerned and involved in the quality right away through the supply chain. We are actually talking to farmers about the way they prepare the land, the way they tilt the land before they even plant the first pineapple. That is how far back we go into the supply chain. We want to know that the ground is safe to use, that the practices of tilting is ready, then we want to know that the planting is done properly, and that there are any agricultural practices like spraying the pesticide.

We make sure if we are buying fruit from another source, we go right through that source and make sure it meets our standards and it does not use any chemicals that are not approved. We have a standard in Dole. We will apply the standard of the strictest standard of any country that we sell to and apply that to all of our production. So we force us to have a very high standard in regard to using only materials that are fully approved, and proven to be safe.

“They [customers] have a safety expectation that cannot be unhealthy in some ways and not contaminated at all.”

We are very strict with our suppliers and our farmers and make sure that they comply. But we do not take that on good faith. We do not just take incoming raw material testing. We test all the way through the process so we test during the process and we test finished products at the end of the process. There are assurance associations like SGF that are well known around the world for being involved in the juice industry that they come and they test for all authenticity. Pineapple juice has its certain standards.”

Mature pineapples will be transported to the fruit processing plant.
Mature pineapples will be transported to the fruit processing plant.

You said “quality means different things for different people”. What quality means to Dole?”

“To Dole quality means integrity. Jim Dole, when he moved to Hawaii about 130 years ago, he actually started out as a missionary. He was bringing a religious message to people in Hawaii, so he was a man of great integrity and then when he was there, he saw an opportunity to build an industry in pineapples, so he then started that. But, his very high value of integrity stayed with him as he transitioned from being a religious person to being a business man. It was true over 130 years ago, and true today that people will buy quality. You buy based on the quality that you can see. People buy a can of Dole pineapples because they know the Dole brand stands for something. And, that something is integrity and reputation built on integrity.

Dole plantation in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, Thailand
Dole plantation in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, Thailand

Do you have any plan in producing fruit juice organically?

“Organic is a concept of being chemical free. But, before you get to organic there are other standards, for example you can be low chem. That means low chemical usage. In Japan some fruits are sold as low chem. What that means is we do not use herbicides and pesticides but we do use regular fertilizer like ammoniumnitrate. Ammoniumnitrate fertilizers have been used for a hundred years and it is completely safe and plants grow extremely well when you apply ammnoniumnitrate. But, ammoniumnitrate comes out of a factory. It is not manure. It is not produced through natural means, so people will call that product low chem if they only use ammoniumnitrate, but do not use the more involved chemicals, herbicides or pesticides, for instance.

“We have a team of people whose entire job is to work with farmers and communities to make sure that they can get the best possible pineapples that we can use.”

For Dole, I think that is also a journey for us. We are experimenting with the nature farming. So nature farming is a concept where you focus on the soil that you take care of the soil. So, you use compost and you analyze the microbes in the soil. You can call it an ecosystem if you like. There might be worms, bacteria or micro living organisms. It is a healthy living system. When you take care of the soil from the start, the soil is healthy and the plants are growing without any additions.

Staff looks at pineapple crowns prepared for planting.
Staff looks at pineapple crowns prepared for planting.

About 90 percent of the raw materials of Dole Thailand are grown by the local community while 10 percent are produced at the Dole pineapple plantation. How do you engage farmers and local communities in promoting sustainable agriculture?

“Thailand exports an enormous quantity of agricultural produces. Farmers in Thailand are very aware of what standards they must comply with in order for that product to be in export great. We are out there looking, we want more pineapples, we want to grow our business, we want bigger pineapples, and we want sweeter pineapples. So we monitor, we control, we talk, we lecture with the communities and farmers. At Dole Thailand we have a team of people whose entire job is to work with farmers and communities to make sure that they can get the best possible pineapples that we can use.”

Staff puts the pineapple crown into the soil for planting.
Staff puts the pineapple crown into the soil for planting.

Do you have an educational programme or a learning programme for the farmers and communities?

“We go out to communities, we do far- to-farm visits and we do town hall meetings where we invite farmers in an area to come in and engage in the talk. We usually try to sign them up with a contract, so that they become a contract grower for us which is good for them and good for us. It is good for them because we pay pretty well for our fruit and we have certain standards of quality, and we reward the farmers for meeting certain quality criteria as well. So, they have an economic incentive to make the fruit a little bit riper, a little bit sweeter which is good for our customers. And, we make it good for them with the price premium that we pay. But, at the same time we always talk through food safety, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in terms of what materials they can use, and what practices they adopt. For instance, I have photographs of me giving presentations to 200 farmers in Rayong last November.

“The way we influence the industry is by setting an example.”

We just invest in a new cannery in Rayong and we want to attract farmers to come into our programme. So we invited a couple hundred farmers and we got very good turnout and we gave them talks and speeches and both on the commercial side of the contract how much we pay and what we pay, the terms and conditions and how we measure the weight of fruit, and also standards of fruit safety, sanitary and arrangements in the farms and what we expect from them. And, it is not new. I think these farmers are well familiar with what they have to do achieve international standards for farming.”

Dole pineapple field in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, Thailand
Dole pineapple field in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, Thailand

In terms of food safety and food quality, what do you say to farmers in regards to what is acceptable and not acceptable?

“There are literally lists of chemicals what is acceptable, and what is not. And there are lists in the internet even. It is well known and well available. In a company like Dole, and our customers know that we play by the rules. We don’t take short cuts.”

What is the key to success of Dole?

“That is a question you can answer at so many different levels. I would love to say we recruit and retain the best possible talents in the industry. When people come to work for Dole, they know that they are working for a company that set high standard. You do not join Dole for an easy life. We recruit very talent people that are highly qualified. And, they work extremely hard. It is a delivered positioning and we are blessed to be able to take advantage of that. But the key to success of Dole is when you go back to Jim Dole about 130 years ago talking about integrity. What does that mean? Nowadays we would use the word quality.

Quality means to fit for purposes. It is what you say it is. We stand by our word. When we assure that it meets all the standards that could possibly be relevant to a customer we mean it and it does. So, I think that is the most fundamental key to success of Dole globally. For Dole Thailand, if you take that down a level. Why is quality good? It is because we have rigorous quality assurance and insurance systems. We have well trained educated people who work extremely hard and do a good job to make us successful.

It starts with the integrity, and therefore quality and therefore brand and capable people and investment in good assets, being in the right locations in the world to produce like in Thailand mainly and selling into the best markets into the world like US and Europe. Those are the keys to success for Dole.”

Mature pineapple fruit at Dole Thai plantation
Mature pineapple fruit at Dole Thai plantation

What are Dole contribution to the fruit juice industry and its quality standard and assurance?

“Doles’ contribution is that because for over a hundred years we have got our way to ensure the highest standard of quality. The way we influence the industry is by setting an example and I cannot claim to do any more of that that we just set an example. We supply fruit juice to the customers that may be buying from other canneries as well, and the customers see the standards that we apply, the specifications, the certifications, the audits, the approvals that we have and that gives them the idea to may be ask our competitors, “Do you have this certification?”, or “How do you control your level of acid?. So we are indirectly raising the standard throughout the industry.

 

ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems (ASEAN SAS) has partnered with German’s Sure-Global-Fair (SGF) in a public-private partnership project “Improvement of product safety and quality for the Thai fruit juice industry” to increase safety and quality of Thai fruit juice products in accordance with nationally and internationally recognized standards market. The project recently ended in April 2015. SGF is an industrial self-controlled association for quality and safety standards worldwide. Its task is to monitor the fruit juice industry and products in the market including market observations and plant audits at the member production plants (www.sgf.org). Dole Food Company is a SGF’s member.

Story and photos by Rojana Manowalailao, ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems (ASEAN SAS)