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Dole's Nutrition Equity Program Could Be Coming to Your City

man and woman looking through box of food

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Key Takeaways

  • Dole Packaged Foods is on a mission to improve nutrition equity and increase eco-sustainability across the globe.
  • The company plans to improve access to high-quality nutrition for 1 billion people.
  • This summer, Dole launched a program brining meals and educational programming directly to cities considered to be food deserts.
  • Eliminating fruit waste in production and creating more eco-friendly packaging is also part of the plan.

Globally, about 690 million people suffer from malnutrition, according to World Action Against Hunger. In America, more than 1 in 10 homes are food insecure. Feeding America estimates that about 42 million individuals haven't had enough food since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dole Packaged Foods—the fruit and vegetable company—is working to do something about it.

“What’s going on in the U.S. is also going on in many developed countries. It’s not specific to one country or region, it’s quite indiscriminate, and it’s a silent epidemic,” Lara Ramdin, PhD, Chief Innovation Officer for Dole, tells Verywell. “The gap in access to good nutrition is getting bigger, and we need to have a dialogue globally. We can’t do this on our own.”

But we can start. In February, Dole created the Sunshine for All Fund, a $2 million annual fund that will support global strategic partnerships and innovation in the crucial areas of sustainability, food access, and waste. The fund was launched during February in tandem with The Growing Distance, a short film that addresses the critical gaps the company sees as barriers to good nutrition for all.

Bringing Produce to Food Deserts

Ramdin cites food deserts—neighborhoods with few grocery stores—as one barrier to healthy eating, particularly in the U.S.

“If you’re trying to find fruits and vegetables, your choices are limited,” Ramdin says. “Lots of people [in food deserts] default to TV or pre-made meals because they’re easy and convenient. They think that cooking is more difficult.”

In August 2020, Dole developed the Sunshine for All Cities program, an initiative to bring fresh and packaged produce, nutritious meals, and educational opportunities to communities that need them the most. Jackson, Mississippi, which only has one grocery store per every 10,000 residents, was the first city chosen by Dole.

Dole partnered with area farmers, chefs, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, and the Boys and Girls Club in Jackson to provide local produce and cooking classes to residents, among other activities. The company plans to measure success of the program based on the local partnerships they're able to establish and the number of new resources they're able to create.

“We want to show young people, as well as their families, that it’s very easy to make nutritious meals,” Ramdin says.

What This Means For You

Dole is currently planning to visit the city of Baltimore, Maryland, next, and is evaluating other cities it may be able to reach in 2021. You can nominate your town to be Dole’s next Sunshine For All city.

Improving the Quality of Pre-packaged Fruits and Vegetables

While canned and frozen produce gets a bad rep, it can be just as nutritious.

“When we put our pineapples in tins, they’re hand-picked, and they go straight into the can. The way that we make them preserves that freshness and that nutrition,” Ramdin says. “Frozen is a great way to get fruits and vegetables because it’s frozen when the fruit is fresh. Frozen and canned foods give you guaranteed freshness year-round.”

"Wherever possible, we won’t be using sweeteners," she adds.

Improving Sustainability

Ramdin tells Verywell the Dole operations in Thailand will be using 100% renewable energy by the end of 2021, and principles learned there would be applied to other factories worldwide.

“We use a lot of electricity in our operations, but we are focusing on using 100% renewable energy,” she says. “We are also working on initiatives to look at how we use our waste differently. Lots of fruit gets rejected because it doesn’t look very nice, but it’s perfectly healthy and tastes great.”

Both improving access to nutrition and improving eco-sustainability require that all parties collaborating in the food production chain have a role. Dole is asking entrepreneurs, farmers, grocers, and others to develop ideas on improving food equity across the world.

“I think the most important thing is that we have to come together. We want to make access to nutrition equal for everybody because we believe it’s a basic human right," Ramdin says.

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Article Sources
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  1. World Action Against Hunger. World hunger: Key facts and statistics 2021.

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Key statistics & graphics. Updated September 9, 2020.

  3. McGinnis MJ, Gustashaw KAR, Painter JE. Fruit myth or fact: is fresh fruit better than unsweetened frozen or canned fruit? Nutr Today. 2020;55(6):322-327. doi:10.1097/NT.0000000000000447