Why would the largest producer of fruits and vegetables on earth promote a product with commercials featuring gay couples, and risk alienating consumers who say they are opposed to the so-called “LGBTQ lifestyle”?
“If you’re a company that believes in an equitable world,” said Rupen Desai, Global CMO of Dole Packaged Foods, LLC, in response to that question, and then he continued: “If you’re a company that believes sunshine should shine on everyone, in initiatives like showing the world as it is, including everyone in the world, not being selective or non-inclusive, it just becomes a natural recourse of the way we are, and the world we want to see, at Dole.”
The way to do that, Desai said, is a company-wide effort dubbed “Sunshine For All” which is manifest in Dole’s public commitment to diversity, ending malnutrition and food insecurity and taking new steps to support its workforce.
Part of that campaign is an ad that has been on the air since January, and like those before it, it features families of all shapes and sizes. They are dealing with the world such as it is since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, turning to Dole Fruit Bowls as the path to the new “normal-ish,” as the slogan goes. One commercial titled, “Date Night” shows two dads about to go out together for the first time “in forever,” when they realize their long-awaited plans are a bust.
Not surprisingly, conservatives complained, just as they did when a wedding planning app featured a lesbian couple in its ad on the Hallmark Channel; Of course, it turned out the group behind the outrage aimed at both Dole and Zola.com, “One Million Moms,” is in fact, just one woman.
Let’s not also forget the outcry from modern-day Puritans when Hallmark then made a movie featuring a lesbian wedding, and when Hulu dared to stream a Christmas movie about lesbians. Right wing muppet Ben Shapiro blasted the film, which he admitted to not having seen.
Cadbury heated things up even more in January, when it featured two gay men enjoying one of its candies while kissing, as Out magazine showed, with an extreme close-up.
An online petition was launched last month by a Catholic woman in the U.K. who called that scene “extremely sexually suggestive” as well as “gross and off-putting.”
As of press time, she’s collected more than 87-thousand signatures. Objections have ranged in tone from plain old homophobic to criticizing the commercial as anti-religious, since Cadbury tied this ad for its 50th anniversary Creme Egg to the chocolatier’s annual Easter lineup. Although secular celebrations of Easter are marked by chocolate bunnies, it appears chocolate also has some relationship to the Resurrection that heretofore was not covered in catechism.
Somewhat surprisingly, the candymaker is so far standing by its ad and not buckling to pressure from petitioners.
“Cadbury has always been a progressive brand that spreads a message of inclusion, whether it is through its products or brand campaigns,” the company said in a statement to Ad Age. “We are proud of our Golden Goobilee advert which celebrates the many ways that everyone can enjoy a Cadbury Creme Egg. To illustrate this and showcase the joy our products bring, a clip of a real life couple sharing a Cadbury Creme Egg was included in the advert.”
Not Just Gays; Lesbians, Too
What is surprising, however, is that Dole decided to go ahead with its gay guys ad despite being criticized for a prior Fruit Bowls campaign featuring lesbians, which aired during the height of the Covid-19 quarantine. These spots, which first hit the airwaves in August, featured frustrated couples using the product’s name as a substitute for words you shouldn’t say in front of children, or on television.
One commercial centered around a stressed-out straight mom and dad living in lockdown with their children; Another showed grandparents helping to raise little ones, trying to find time for intimacy. And then there was the one featuring exhausted lesbian moms and their undeniably worst-behaved children on the planet.
An Angry Letter From Phyllis
One consumer took the time to write a letter to the company, to complain about the company’s campaign, calling it “visually repulsive” and “morally offensive.” Her name is Phyllis, and when her letter reached Desai, it had such an impact, he had it framed.
Desai said he doesn’t ever want to lose a customer, but he added, “It also makes you proud. I have that letter framed because it has to be a constant reminder, that is not the world we want to talk about.”
That kind of perspective puts Dole in good company with Intuit, whose CEO Sasan Goodarzi told Forbes.com in January 2020 that being inclusive is good for business. This week, Intuit will host its second annual Trans Summit as evidence of its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“This isn’t a specific effort to include a section of the community as much as it is to say, ‘This is the world. This is the world we need to all celebrate,’” Desai said. “And we should have fun with it, right? We’re going through one of the toughest phases that none of us were prepared for.”
What Else Is Dole Doing?
The pandemic’s economic impact has been widespread, and Dole Packaged Foods Worldwide last month announced all of its U.S.-based workers soon will earn a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
The Packaged Foods division, which makes canned pineapple, frozen fruit and other food products, is a part of Dole Asia Holdings, as is Dole Asia Fresh Produce. The company was acquired by Itochu Corp. in 2012.
Also last month, Dole Asia launched a $2 million-a-year fund seeking solutions to end malnutrition and promote sustainability. It’s called The Sunshine For All Fund. A short film announcing the fund declares “Nutrition is a human right.” It’s already been viewed on YouTube more than 2.7 million times.
“We invited media and influencers from around the globe to join us and our partner, Forum for the Future, to discuss the growing systemic issue of food insecurity and the actions we all can take globally to address this,” said Dole’s president of Packaged Foods Worldwide, Pier Luigi Sigismondi. In contrast to the cute animated pineapple ad, Dole produced a stark look at the problem, a video posted to YouTube last month titled “Malnutrition Labels.”
An estimated 54 million people in the U.S. are expected to be facing food insecurity, according to Feeding America, CNN reported.
In addition to pledging to tackle food insecurity here as well as global malnutrition, Dole is vowing to improve the sustainability of its own operations and the well-being of its workers and farmers, as Forbes.com’s Robin Schatz reported last month. “Sunshine For All” is a campaign that stems from The Dole Promise, issued last summer. By 2025, Dole pledges to end the use of petroleum-based plastic packaging, reduce its fruit waste to zero and remove all processed sugar from its products. By 2030, the company said it would strive to make its operations carbon neutral.
Dole Fresh, another division, is addressing another environmental concern: a damning report in Global Health Now, a not-for-profit arm of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. One year ago, Madison Stewart reported that the widespread use of pesticides in Costa Rica were causing illnesses among plantation workers who harvested America’s favorite fruit: bananas. A Dole Fresh spokesperson provided this statement:
“Our purpose is to provide good nutrition for everyone. We grow, source, distribute, and package fruit in compliance with industry standards.
“As part of our Dole Promises, as we increase access to good nutrition, we work to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and to use more sustainable practices that protect biodiversity, ecosystems and soil health.
“Our progress on our promises should be measured by the continued adoption of alternatives that are better for the people and the planet.”
This month, the company founded 170-years ago by James Dole took one more step forward along the path it calls “The Dole Way:” an integrated sustainability media campaign aimed at amplifying its commitment to its goals, “for people, for nature, for food.”
Dole Food Company, Inc.’s president and chief executive officer, Johan Linden, announced the commitment on March 4. A statement to the media said the campaign will be sustained over the next several months through its social media. Desai says all this is a commitment by the company beyond mere messaging.
“’Sunshine For All’ isn’t a tag line. It is indeed a poster on the wall, but it’s actually a business model,” Desai explained. “Whether we look at nutrition, whether we look at diversity, whether we look at LGBTQIA rights, whether we look at how young girls feel at a certain age, these are systemic changes that have been systemic because they’ve been designed to be systemic. Maya Angelou was right when she said, ‘It’s time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.’”
Who Is Rupen Desai?
With his wife, Desai is raising two young girls in Singapore. He said he “was born into a family of strong women, to a mother who was a strong woman and I am married to one of them.” Despite systemic patriarchy, he said, he’s learned he cannot “win a single argument at home for more than three and a half seconds.”
The self-proclaimed “accidental marketer” started in advertising. Before Dole, Desai was vice chairman for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa at Edelman, and before that, spent two decades at Mullen Lowe and Partners Worldwide. He joined Dole in April 2019 as CMO.
“The one thing that had been common in all my career is I was at my best when I was making purposeful businesses of purpose with brands,” Desai said. And when it comes to the social justice aspect of “Sunshine For All” at Dole, his brand’s purpose now is crucial, he explained, even if it’s not something he sees as distinctive.
“I don’t believe we are doing anything special, or unique, or different, to be celebrated. I genuinely believe that every business, every brand, every mother, every father needs to be celebrating the differences in the world, the uniqueness of each of these differences. Unless we’re able to reach that kind of celebration and diversity, we’re going to leave behind a pretty terrible planet and civilization.”