Dole Sunshine global CMO Rupen Desai on betting on collaborative prosperity

Rupen Desai, global CMO at Dole Sunshine

As voting continues for The WFA’s Global Marketer of the Year, The Drum meets award nominee Rupen Desai, global CMO at Dole Sunshine, to discuss how a philanthropic mantra has reinvented the company’s marketing messages.

We see countless examples of companies espousing philanthropic sentiments in their advertisements. It’s much rarer, however, to find an organization that is uprooting working strategies in order to put those sentiments into practice.

Fruit and veg giant Dole Sunshine Company relaunched its marketing messages last year, inspired by Japanese business principle sanpo-yoshi. As Desai explains, its embrace of six core promises mean that purposeful growth, rather than expansion for its own sake, is the new order of the day.

“We’ve taken actionable steps towards each of six goals within the Dole Promise, which is certainly something to be positive about. We’re actively reformulating our portfolio to replace all processed sugars and artificial ingredients, have entered three new categories using upcycled fruit, and have further reduced fruit waste with Ananas Anam, turning pineapple leaves into vegan leather Nike shoes.

“We’ve rechanneled fruit waste into fuel to power new biogas and harnessed the power of sunshine to generate 4 GWh annually with the help of partner Symbior Solar in Thailand. Since 2019, there has been a 12% net decrease in carbon emissions across global operations and 34% of energy used in 2020 was purchased or generated from renewable sources.”

Desai additionally cites the work Dole is doing in partnership with Solidaridad, its own Sunshine for All Program, and malnutrition labels as examples of the business activities that flow from that central philosophy. It is, he argues, as much an ethical consideration as a commercial one, allowing Dole to find “systemic solutions to reduce accessibility and affordability challenges as well”.

Into the headwinds

Desai acknowledges that the tricky environment of the past two years has forced change upon every business. While some have retreated into protectionism, others have used the opportunity to strip back and re-evaluate what makes their organization unique. Desai says that while the pandemic initially forced its work on the ground to slow down in order to keep its staff safe, it has also quickly pivoted to the realities of productivity in 2021 and beyond.

“We have over 55,000 people working hard, struggling with serious daily challenges to ensure that the world had the food security it desperately needs. This phase has given us a profound sense of gratitude to them, their families and their communities. It has made us reflect deeply and urgently on the broader sustainability challenges that we face collectively and has tipped the balance towards a bias for action for us.

“The adversity we face during the pandemic has built the momentum needed to begin our renewed sustainability journey and become the business we want to be.”

He notes that waiting around for perfection often means that no initial action gets taken, and that inaction ultimately does no good for anyone. “Prioritize progress over perfection”, he says, adding that it is at least important to make a pledge and publicly commit to change, and that when it first made the Dole Promises, the company did not have all the answers in place as to how it would fulfill them.

Desai says that once an action is taken and change has been spurred, it is the flywheel that can power future developments. “When purpose is baked into your business model it starts a virtuous cycle – the more you grow the larger the ‘purposeful’ effect prosperity has on both people and planet.”

Sustainability and sustainable growth

In order to deliver upon those promises, however, a company needs to be successful. By baking its pledges into its marketing materials, Dole is nailing its colors to the mast and betting upon customers’ similar desire to do good in the world. Desai believes that is doable, and that business success naturally follows from egalitarian efforts.

“Sustainable growth starts with our business model. At the Dole Sunshine Company, we are putting purpose at the heart of our business model. This is not about the next purpose advertising brief, nor is it about a CSR tab on a website. It is about creating and emerging a business model where people, planet and prosperity thrive, interdependently together, and changing the old doctrine where short term profit comes at the cost of people and/or the planet.

“All of us need to build businesses that our consciences can live with. We need to move away from the myopic thinking where ‘profit for shareholder’ can come at the cost of people’s wellbeing, their health and the planet’s future.”

The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and The Drum have partnered once again to find the Global Marketer of the Year. We’ll be running interviews with all finalists ahead of the vote closing on December 31. You can cast your vote to crown this year’s winner here.