Dole APAC MD exclusive part I: Affordability and access at the forefront of firm’s packaged foods strategy in Asia

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

The head of Dole’s packaged foods division has revealed how product affordability and access are at the core of the firm’s strategy in the Asia Pacific region. ©Dole
The head of Dole’s packaged foods division has revealed how product affordability and access are at the core of the firm’s strategy in the Asia Pacific region. ©Dole

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The head of Dole’s packaged foods division has revealed how product affordability and access are at the core of the firm’s strategy in the Asia Pacific region, as it pursues plans to achieve further expansion in major regional markets.

The multinational has long been a heavyweight in both fresh and packaged fruit and vegetable products in Asia, and according to Dole Packaged Foods Asia Pacific VP and Managing Director Aashim Maholtra, plans are in motion to reach even more consumers in the region by increasing the affordability of and access to its products.

“We saw that today, especially with the pandemic, there are many consumers who cannot afford to buy the food they need, and we need to give them a good price point to even let them consider buying our products [so as to] to reach more consumers [in less affluent] socioeconomic classes,”​ Maholtra told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“What this really means is that affordability is clearly a key platform to grow in Asia, and access to consumers needs to come with affordability.

“At the same time, we realised that in some of our operations such as in the Philippines, there was a lot of byproducts being generated that was being wasted, such as pineapple juice concentrate and clarified pineapple juice which we were essentially just giving away.

“So we hit on the idea to recycle this pineapple juice and create a 100% natural fruit juice product range under our Seasons brand with pineapple as the base, and really work hard on getting this to a low price for consumers.”

The initial launch of Seasons fruit juice will hit the Philippines market at PHP14 (US$0.29) per 200ml tetra pak where comparable products are priced PHP16 to PHP18 (US$0.33 to US$0.38), and this will be followed by other packaging sizes such as a smaller PHP7.5 (US$0.16) variant and a one litre value pack later in the year, all with affordable pricing as the core concept.

In addition to the Philippines, a similar project is ongoing in Thailand under its Fruitly brand where juices will be sold for THB12 (US$0.38) for 200ml, compared to competing products at THB16 (US$0.51) and upwards.

“Products under the Fruitly brand will comprise of 100% juice so this is real value for money, and we will be targeting general trade first to really stay true to the purpose of this affordable range and reach those in the provinces who need it the most,”​ said Maholtra.

“Beyond the Philippines and Thailand, we also have similar plans for places such as Vietnam, Myanmar and Singapore.

“We believe Singapore is of interest here as we are seeing a drive by the government to provide nutrition for those in dormitories or in less affluent housing who want lower-cost nutrition – we hope this will materialize in about three or four months.”

Although fresh fruit juice is the first product targeted under the affordable strategy, Maholtra added that this will not be the sole category.

“The next thing we will be focusing our efforts on is Dole Fruit Chews, which are small tidbit cubes of fruit such as pineapple, strawberries and papayas which were not the right colour or grade for our conventional canned products, but we recondition and put in a nice pack to be enjoyed as a snack,”​ he said.

“We’ve already started rolling these out in Thailand and Vietnam where they go for THB20 (US$0.64) for a small pack/THB40 (US$1.28) for a big pack in the former or VND9,000 (US$0.39) in the latter.

“The focus for this is very much ASEAN first, and it’s just a really good way of recycling food and preserving waste, yet bringing more affordable value to consumers – and there are more such single serve Made-in-Asia snack food ideas on the way, which we will be launching in most of Asia.”

Expanding to major markets

Alongside bringing Dole’s affordable product strategy to life, Maholtra also has his eye on various big new markets in Asia.

“Dole’s major existing markets in the region include the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea as well as Australia and New Zealand, but we are now looking to go beyond these and hit more new markets,” ​he said.

“Major new ones for us are India, China particularly for packaged foods, Vietnam where we just established a team on the ground, and Myanmar where we were lucky to get in right before COVID-19 hit.

“In places like India, the main challenges are local sourcing and co-packing, so likely imports will come into play and be sold here too. Overall though, our nutrition strategy will aim more at the bottom of the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid, but also hit the medium and top sections with products at low, middle and high price points.”

In terms of consumer reach in such huge markets, Maholtra added that one major marketing plan for the firm will be to fix distribution and access to these consumers, again via making products available in general trade.

“In this sense, it is important to have our distributors and salespeople trained to reach those retailers that are hard on working capital, in addition to working on improving infrastructure and creating an effective network of wholesalers,”​ he said.

“The other strategy we believe to be very important is to go digital, as this is crucial to reach even consumers in the lower and middle of the pyramid – everyone is graduating to online purchases and [we need to cater to this change] so we are also looking at working closely with e-commerce platforms such as Lazada and Shopee.”

Five by Five

Maholtra also told us of a ‘Five by Five’ consumer strategy used at Dole when it comes to innovating new products, revealing how the company creates new concepts from its specialty material of fruits and materials.

“The Five by Five strategy refers to the five benefit platforms we base on – Affordable refreshment, Healthy Snacking, Healthy Ready-to-eat, Healthy Ingredients and Healthy Functionals; and how these are crossed with our five major consumer types which are Children, Mothers, Young Adults, Silvers and Whole Families,”​ he said.

“So we customise products by looking at how items we create would benefit specific consumer types in certain ways, so for instance young adults could be looking for healthy snacks, so things that would benefit them include creations like healthy jellies or 100% clean label fruit bowls.

“Other creations we have come up with based on this strategy include natural immunity powders which will be entering Asia soon, a new range of functional juices containing probiotics or other natural elements, and various others.”

Maholtra also emphasised his optimism for the local food and beverage sector in Asia, believing that there is more pressure on companies to ensure supply chain continuity, but also that better things are on the way.

“With the advent of COVID-19, consumers are on the lookout for healthier food options, so I believe categories like ours will clearly bounce back and there is a lot of investment coming to Asia, so I am very positive about the outlook here,”​ he said.

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