Rooting for sugar reduction: Dole banks on both reformulation and innovation to enhance packaged product portfolio

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Dole has revealed that it is focusing on new technologies and collaborations to overcome sugar reduction challenges for its packaged products portfolio. ©Dole
Dole has revealed that it is focusing on new technologies and collaborations to overcome sugar reduction challenges for its packaged products portfolio. ©Dole

Related tags Dole Fruits sugar reduction reformulation

Fruit product heavyweight Dole has revealed that it is focusing heavily on the use of new technologies and collaborations to overcome sugar reduction challenges for its packaged products portfolio, in hopes of reaching its 2025 zero processed sugar sustainability commitment.

In its recent Dole Sunshine For All 2020 sustainability progress review, Dole updated that as a whole, just 47% of its entire portfolio of fresh and packaged/manufactured fruit products still contains processed sugar which puts it in a good position to remove the rest by its 2025 goal.

However, there do exist differences in the amount of processed sugar used as this is undoubtedly higher for packaged products such as tinned fruits and fruit juices as compared to fresh bananas or pineapples, and more challenges still exist in the former that need to be overcome.

“Within our range of manufactured fruit products, around 53% of the total 2020 range still contains some processed sugar, down from 55% in 2019 – so we have achieved a 2% reduction since the previous year,”​ Dole Sunshine Company VP and Managing Director APAC, Food and Beverage Group Aashim Malhotra told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“[There are still challenges in this area as] sugar provides not only flavour but also texture and a feeling of satiety, so finding the right replacement is never going to be straightforward. That said, we are committed to developing healthy, accessible products that also bring joy and delight to the consumers that eat them.

“To achieve this, we are first working with a range of partners to explore different technologies to unlock that flavour in our core products, like Fruit Bowls and ready to drink (RTD) juices. [We] are always scouting for new technologies in the ‘sweetening’ space and it’s an area in our R&D programme where we know that we are only going to be able to deliver to our targets through key collaborations.

“[The other area we are working on is] the expansion of our portfolio [by developing new products with zero processed sugar] e.g. smoothies, fruit beverages etc.”

Within the APAC region, the percentage of products with zero processed sugar still stands at just over a third (34%), so it is clear there is still much work to be done over the next several years to meet the 2025 goal.

The other area Dole is focusing on to reach this goal is via reformulation of existing products, an effort which Malhotra admits is likely to ‘take some time’​.

“Converting a portfolio such as ours to zero processed sugars is going to take some time – to that end, we are taking a phased approach to reformulation across our portfolio and will communicate progress and implement label redesigns as reformulations are created, tested, and available in-market,”​ he said.

“This project focuses mainly on eliminating ingredients like cane sugar or high-fructose corn syrup [and] instead we aim to introduce natural replacements like stevia or monk fruit or agave. [This will also be an area where] those new technologies in the sweetening space [are very important to us].”

Dole is also attempting to challenge the misconception that packaged fruits have a different nutritional value to fresh fruits, which has been brought about precisely due to the use of processed sugars in packaged fruit products.

“To do this, in addition to removing all processed sugar from our products by 2025, we are pushing further with our ‘clean label’ initiative and using only natural or naturally derived ingredients,”​ said Malhotra.

“[We’ve realised] it’s also important that our consumers find our labels/packaging easy to navigate and it’s clear what kind of nutrition is being provided [so] transparency is key to engaging with our consumers effectively.”

Dole recently launched its Fruit Bowls in Asia, focusing on marketing these as not just having zero added sugar but also as a healthy snack with zero added sugar, a concept that many consumers in the region are familiar with.

“Healthy snacking is on the rise across the region as appetite for small bites replaces larger meals, as consumers look for healthier and more nutritious foods,”​ he said.

Other sustainability goals and solutions

In addition to zero processed sugars, Dole’s report also highlighted several other sustainability goals and the relevant progress for these. For instance, the company is also looking to eliminate fossil-based plastic packaging by 2025, and at present has succeeded in converting 77% of its packaging to be sustainable, leaving just 23% to be converted.

“While plastic has many benefits for packaging fruit, such as protecting the fruit and reducing fruit loss or waste, we all know that it can have counter effects for the environment if not handled appropriately,”​ he added.

“Therefore, we are investing heavily in accelerating the research and development of fossil fuel-free packaging alternatives, such as paper, pulp and renewable plastics. [We aim] to launch pulp-based packaging for use in acai bowls and Dole Fruit Bowls with the first executions expected to be rolled out in the next two to three years.

“Additionally, we are in the R&D phase for innovative, long-term product packaging solutions that create a truly circular system within our operations, by building packaging out of our own product materials.”

He added that the main challenges faced by most APAC markets when it comes to sustainable packaging development include the relatively high temperatures of ambient distribution, the need for protection properties of the packaging, and low recycling rates.

Another sustainability goal of Dole’s is to achieve zero fruit loss by 2025 – a 29% reduction was seen between 2019 and 2020, a percentage the firm is hoping to increase especially via the launch of multiple products made with upcycled fruits.

“We have an affordable range of products including Dole All Natural Seasons Tropical Fruit, a sugar-free tropical fruit salad range in the Philippines, as well as Dole Fruit Chews, [all of which] upcycle imperfect fruits that cannot be sold due to cosmetic reasons and contain no added sugar preservatives or artificial ingredients,”​ said Malhotra.

“The reception [to these] have been positive - Since its relaunch in August 2020, the Seasons Tropical Fruit [has become] one of our best-selling products in the Philippines [whereas the] Fruit Chews are now available across the modern trade and general trade in Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam, with plans to roll out to additional markets in the next eight to twelve months.

“There has also been another ongoing project to upcycle imperfect bananas from our packing plant in Mindanao to make Dole Banana Dippers, a frozen banana snack - Over a third of our rejected bananas, equal to 9,918 tonnes of the fruit in 2020, are used to make these products which are now available in Singapore and Japan.”

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