Although Dole, formally the Dole Sunshine Company, is already a well-known name in the region when it comes to fruit products and juices, the firm believes that it is important for it to push forward even further when it comes to developing products with a health and wellness focus given rising consumer awareness in the region.
Hence it has decided to make clean label and fortification major areas of focus for its ongoing product innovation efforts, particularly when it comes to juices.
“Based on a lot of based on a lot of work done by our marketing team, what we have found is that on-pack claims today are a very important factor for consumer choice – they are stopping when shopping in-store, they're looking when shopping online, and will have a quick glance at the ingredients and the claims on the label,” Dole Packaged Foods APAC VP and Managing Director Aashim Malhotra told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“This has become particularly important for mothers who are buying for the family, but even for adults, everyone is checking how much sugar is in the product, does it have added preservatives and so on, so labels are becoming very important and having clear claims and benefit statements is becoming very important.
“So for Dole, we're first making sure that our labels become simpler [and] for Asia one of our top priorities is to move into 100% clean label when it comes to our juices – this [means] ensuring the juices taste delicious even without the ‘baddies’ as we call them, so no added sugars and no preservatives.
“It is not easy as there are markets where some consumers have a sweeter palate and some where they prefer less, so we are going slow with the rollout, but so far we have seen good success in places like Singapore and India.”
Consumers looking for these clean label products in fact tend to be willing to pay a bit of a premium to get these healthier items, with retailers having reflected consumer demand for more of such items.
“In India, we are by no means the cheapest juice brand and are a little expensive, but surprisingly we have seen the clean label product sales numbers getting better month on month, and now our trade partners, a lot of retailers in India, are telling us that people are actually liking the clean label concept and requesting for the introduction of more clean label ranges,” Malhotra added.
“So that's been our first focus, and we are still going very cautiously , and the second area of focus for our innovation in juice is with different kinds of fortification - in Singapore for instance, we are testing out a pineapple juice fortified with green tea, because green tea has catechins which are very good for health.
“There’s another variant, a pineapple and mango juice fortified with a dash of turmeric which is supposed to be an antiseptic and good for the gut – these are experiments we are trying with all natural ingredients and natural extracts, and we intend to be nimble with this innovation and listen closely to consumer feedback on this.”
Sparkle and fermentation
In addition to clean label and fortification, Malhotra also highlighted several other initiatives Dole is working on to broaden its portfolio, to provide greater product variety whilst maintaining a healthier product focus.
“We also launched a sparkling juice range in the Philippines, which is a healthier uplift for consumers versus existing pure sparkling or carbonation drinks, and another option for those looking for a better alternative but still wanting that sparkle,” he said.
“The trend is moving away from a regular sparkling to a more natural drink, so we went with a product that is 40% to 50% juice content, but still mildly sparkling. For this, we are still working around the taste delivery and making sure we get the right level of sweetness - because we don't use any added sugar, we have to make adjustments via the concentrated juice we add.
“Dole is one of the first to do this, and interestingly we have seen many other players launching the same concept, so we feel that this validates our own insights that consumers want healthier versions of the drinks they're having, and that we are on the right path.”
A somewhat newer space for Dole where it also sees significant potential for growth is in the fermented beverage space.
“We haven’t launched any fermented drink products yet but are completing some innovations in the space, because fermented beverages are definitely a big rage, and they are natural and good for the gut so very in line with what we want to do,” Malhotra added.
“There are several products that are being test marketed in the United States which we are evaluating on whether Asian consumers would be ready for - a lot of these have added probiotics and other beneficial components which are good for the gut.
“Another experimental area for us is beverages that are more children-focused, providing benefits for memory retention and supplementing with the daily dose of calcium – that’s an area we definitely also want to expand more moving forward.”