Ep. 248 - Dole Packaged Foods' Dr. Lara Ramdin, CIO and Barbara Guerpillon, Head of Ventures on Dole's Venture Fund, Open Innovation & Nutrition

Dole Packaged Foods' Dr. Lara Ramdin, Chief Innovation Officer and Barbara Guerpillon, Head of Ventures talk with Brian Ardinger, Inside Outside Innovation about Dole's new venture fund, its open innovation initiatives, and how it's tackling global issues from nutrition to sustainability. For a complete transcript and more innovation resources, check out insideoutside.io.
On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with two innovators from Dole Packaged Foods, Dr. Lara Ramdin, Chief Innovation Officer and Barbara Guerpillon, Head of Ventures. We talk about Dole's new venture fund, its open innovation initiatives, and how it's tackling global issues from nutrition to sustainability. Let's get started.

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Interview Transcript with Dole Packaged Foods' Dr. Lara Ramdin, Chief Innovation Officer and Barbara Guerpillon, Head of Ventures

Brian Ardinger:  Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have some amazing guests. Today, we actually have two guests coming from all around the world. We have Dr. Lara Ramdin, the Chief Innovation Officer and Barbara Guerpillon, Head of Ventures at Dole Packaged Foods. So welcome to the show. 

Lara Ramdin: Thanks.

Barbara Guerpillon: Glad to be here. 

Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, I am so excited to have you both on the show together. The two of you are at the forefront of Dole's transformation and focus on innovation. And so, we wanted to have you on the show to talk about some of the new initiatives that you unveiled in the recent months and why they're so important. How does Dole define innovation? 

Lara Ramdin: Innovation is, it's a very broad term, right? And it can often be overused in our case, it's at all touch points. So, from the farm to the fruit, to the product, to the way the consumer uses it, to the way the consumer disposes it. So, it's actually end to end, innovation can occur them, any of those points.

And that's obviously why we're here because we're trying to broaden our horizons in all of those aspects. It's time that we thought about Innovation beyond just a formulation and a pack. 

Barbara Guerpillon: It's also about innovation in ways of working and Lara and I is a very great example of how we are working on Innovation. It's just different approaches as well to solving problems. 

Brian Ardinger: So, let's talk a little bit about those different types of approaches. One of the things I wanted to talk about is you've unveiled this new Dole Promise. These are six promises that you're making to the world that by 2025 you're going to make some big changes and transformation. So, Lara do you want to talk a little bit about the Dole Promise and what it is all about? 

Lara Ramdin: What's really interesting about Dole and both Barbara and I are new to the company, right? So that's also new for Dole in terms of Innovation, having a Head of Ventures and the Head of Innovation, is that they sort of set their stool out and said, if we're really, really going to make a difference, where we're going to make a difference is by actually closing this nutrition gap, which we see happening all over the world and happening, not just in developing countries, but in developed countries.

And so, it's our mission to make nutrition accessible and affordable. And also, as part of this wider innovation agenda, try and get nutrition to people in different ways. Right? So that's the first thing. That's really the first big promise pillar. 

And then underneath that, we're really striving. For access to sustainable nutrition for 1 billion people. And then also we're looking at our current portfolio and saying, how can we make those better? And how can we take out processed sugar? And how can we take out the things that we know you don't need? Right. And how can we give you the things that we already make in this period school? So that's one big nutrition pillar, 

Brian Ardinger: Barbara, what are your thoughts?

Barbara Guerpillon: I'm specifically looking at reducing our carbon footprint. As Head of Venture, my role is to bring the outside in. Identify technology, startups, and entrepreneur we can work with. And if you look at the massive agenda on reducing carbon footprint, we know, we cannot do it all alone and we need to partner and we have innovators with new technology, and therefore reducing our carbon footprint, we'll start from, it will have to be a closed loop.

It will start from the farms, to our package product, to the way we are shipping the product to the way we are packing them. So, we also have a goal on a zero-footprint based plastic by 2025 in our world packaging, but it's not only on the packaging and so everywhere where there is today for based plastics. It also includes within our farm. So, there is a big interconnectivity between all our Dole Promises, which will be mutually beneficial. We are really looking forward to exploring those partnerships and those new developments with entrepreneurs. 

Lara Ramdin: There's a big recognition Brian that we want systemic change. And if we want systemic change, we can't do it on our own. Right. So actually, we're in this position, and I think Barbara alluded to earlier, because we want to innovate in the way we work. And actually, Dole's saying, hey guys, we can't do this on our own. Come help us. That's already really innovative for us. Right. And I think we are embracing open innovation in its truest form in that way. 

Brian Ardinger: And that leads to my next question. So, you were both new to Dole. I was going to ask, how are these initiatives different from the way Dole approached Innovation in the past? Obviously, you said it's much more open than before. Why do you think this is a different image for Dole and why are you going to go on this path? 

Barbara Guerpillon: I think I'm going to start because my answer is going to be way shorter than Lara's.  One, the Head of Venture and the Venturing Team is a new team, and it hasn't been done before. And I really, really focus on working with startups and young companies. So, the answer is quite easy because this did not exist before. It's a new initiative. It has been launched about a year ago. So that's a simple answer. 

Lara Ramdin: And then building on that. I would say that Dole has been in the past quite traditional about how it focused on Innovation. Right? So, it innovated on what it knew how to do already. And actually, we're expanding our portfolio beyond the canned Pineapple.  And so, we're saying, we want to go beyond that. We know fruit, we are the experts in food, but we want to get fruit and nutrition in fruit and vegetables and plants to people in different ways. How can we do that? 

If we don't know how to do it, let's go and find somebody that can, that's the other part of this sort of innovation continuum that I'm doing, is that person over there can do supplements, sell it. Cause we've just launched supplements. Let's go and work with them to launch fruit-based supplements, for example. So, I think that's why I'm saying it's really open innovation in its truest form.

Brian Ardinger:  That leads to my question, Barbara, about Dole Ventures and I believe you have a new Sunshine For All Investment Fund. $2 million annual fund. You mentioned it's a new initiative to go in this open innovation and actively pursue startups for that. Can you talk more about the fund? What are you looking for and how are you partnering and looking for investments in the startup space? 

Barbara Guerpillon: We launched about a month ago. And these found is really our commitments to the rest of the startup community to work with startups and work on Innovation. So, I would say it's the proof that we are extremely committed to change the way we are organizing our business. And we're really committed to work. Dole Promise and acknowledging that we need them to help us. First of all, it is not a program like you would have in accelerators. We are really looking at innovative technology.

So, any startups, any social enterprise as well, any NGOs, anyone think they can help us? In our quest, in our journey, can apply through the website, which is a simple form, explaining a little bit more about your background and your technology. We will review and filter those. And then we'll, we'll help them to connect with the business because from my experience, the biggest problem that we need to solve, when are talking about corporate innovation and corporates, working with startups is defining what success look like for both parties. 

It's helping them to get themselves organized, defining what the pilots look like. Both needs help. Both from a startup point of view, who needs to understand how a big guy is working, how can they develop that better solution for us. And for us working on how can we define our problem statement in a way that we can work in an interpretive mode.

So, the fund itself, it's really a door, an entry door to Dole and wants to connect with us. And the, the role of the team is going to then connect back with the business, working very closely with Lara, but also with the supply chain guy, working with the people in our farms. When we are looking at bio fertilizer for instance. When we are looking at traceability, we are really looking at any technology that helps us to deliver our Dole Promise. On the website itself, there is some examples and elements of what we are looking for, but we are by nature, extremely curious and open to talk to those entrepreneurs. 

Brian Ardinger: Now, are you looking at making equity investments in these particular startups or combination of different opportunities, depending on what's going on? 

Barbara Guerpillon: That's a very good point and no. So, we're not looking at taking any equity investment. I think when you're talking about experimentation and developing pilots, it's a lot easier if we keep it light and where the objective is really to solve the problems. 

So, the fund is going to be spent in two pilots. So, it's money that we're going to allocate to try new technology, to try new ways of working new business models and not specifically into equity. To be honest, it's a lot easier to pull the plug when we need to pull it out, when something doesn't work. It's also easier to move forward a lot faster when there is no equity, legal, and all involved. So, it's really, this $2 million is really for us to accelerate that transformation and working with those startups.

Lara Ramdin: And also, really take action. Right? Cause that's part of our, how do we drive the systemic change is to really, instead of talking about it, to do it, to try it right. Our boss always talks about not trying is failing. I think that was really his intention, by setting up this fund, right. To fund really meaningful pilot activity, which hopefully will be successful and lead to bigger initiatives across the enterprise. But we know that obviously the failure rate is probably going to be quite high, but that's okay because we tried. And there's no way we're going to affect change if we don't. 

Brian Ardinger: I know you're trying a lot of stuff already. I've heard a little bit about some of the Innovation efforts that are showing some impact, things like initiatives, looking at food deserts in cities like Baltimore, and that. I don't know if you want to expand a little bit more on those kinds of initiatives that are already working. 

Lara Ramdin: So, the Sunshine For All Cities Program actually started in Jackson last year. And we are piloting this. We're doing this in order to take action. We're picking these cities and going to these cities and saying, you guys have got a food desert, which is true in Jackson.

There's only like 20 supermarkets in Jackson. I think, so it's one for every 10,000 people. And so, there are children going up who don't naturally have access to fruits and vegetables, which is unfathomable to me because obviously I'm very lucky where I grew up. So, I always had access to food, vegetables, but people in Jackson don't.

And so, we worked with the mayor of Jackson and we actually tried to tackle it in a few ways. So, we had pop up fruit and vegetable stores. We worked really closely with the boys and girls club in Jackson. So, we went in and we taught children how to cook with fruit and vegetables. We actually had a debrief from the CEO.

It was amazing. It was really, really amazing to see them get so excited about using. Fruit and vegetables, which they'd never done before. So, it's actually a several pronged approach that very specific to how Jackson is run and what Jackson needs. We are going to do the same in Baltimore, but it's not going to be a copy and paste.

Right. So, it's going to be very specific. But Baltimore has needs, and I believe they have a food policy director in Baltimore actually for that state. We're going to be working very, very closely with them to design a program for them. And so there will be other cities that we work with. Right. So, there are, unfortunately, there are many food deserts in the United States. 

I was recently talking to a lady from the Chicago Sun-Times, and she was very passionate about us coming to Chicago. And so, I said, well, the Chicago can always apply. So actually, online on our website, you can apply for your city to be next. So, if you're very passionate, there's somebody listening to this and wants to pilot an activity like this for their city then. Yeah. By all means apply. 

Brian Ardinger: And do you see startups working with those types of programs or maybe talk through what are some of the core areas that you are looking to fund or, or solve? You mentioned a couple of them, but. 

Lara Ramdin: So, when we talk about the fund, we're open to all kinds of partnerships, right? If you're a social enterprise that is trying to use food that would otherwise be wasted in a different way, that's exactly an area that fits several areas of our promise. Right? So, it's about getting access to nutrition, but also solving, because we have to tackle it at both ends, the zero-waste end right. 

So, Dole is a member of the upcycled food association because we believe. We take the zero waste apart very, very seriously. And as part of our continuous innovation program. So, if you're a social enterprise or an enterprise that works in those areas in those cities, then we'd be very interested to hear from you. 

If you're a startup technology owner at a social enterprise, that's working to try and get nutrition to food deserts in different ways, in different forms, that comes from fruit and vegetables, then we're also very interested in talking to you as well. So, I think we said the word open quite a few times, yeah, but we genuinely mean that we are very, very good. 

We are very curious. I think curious is exactly the right word. I've not worked for a company that's quite so openly curious about learning from other people. It's a very unarrogant way to do innovation. So, we're really very humble about the fact, there's a lot of things that we don't know, and we, we know that other people can teach us in order for us to realize this mission. And that's really what this is all about. 

Brian Ardinger: Barbara, I know you came from Unilever and the Unilever Foundry program looking and working with startups on that side. Are there particular technologies or trends that you're most excited about delving into? 

Barbara Guerpillon: Yes, actually. There is a lot which is happening, talking about reducing our food waste and food loss. A lot happening on extending shelf life of fruits in a natural way. So there is a lot of startups from around the world.

I'm really surprised to see that many young entrepreneurs are working on tackling that challenges. So extremely involved in R and D space. There is also a lot of startups trying to reduce sugar in products. So that's where we work quite closely with Lara, but that's areas where we are seeing a lot of things happening.

We are also seeing a lot of startups and a big trend around carbon footprint. So, so around regenerative agriculture and agroforestry practices. So, we do have a lot to do on the education part. How can we educate our farmers that we're working with and develop those new practices in our condition? 

And there is a lot of startups and social impact companies actually, who are very soon going to help us to get there and to change our practices. Two big areas that I see quite a lot recently is on reducing our carbon footprint, emissions and food waste. 

Brian Ardinger: So, I know this is fairly new to the process. I'm curious to understand some of the challenges that you've had in these early days about getting some new initiatives up and running, and more importantly, what are the obstacles that you're preparing to tackle moving forward?

Barbara Guerpillon: That's a very good question and it's still early days. So, I think at the moment, what I'm really focusing on is to get the organization to work in a very iterative mode. The biggest challenge I would say, and I've been through it in my previous life. So the biggest challenge is to help the team we're working with to define a problem statement without jumping into a solution.

Very often, when you go to talk to someone and you want to solve a problem, the person very naturally said, and we are looking for these A, B and C solution. And my role is to get a stop to the problem statement. And then you start to push and push back a lot on why are we trying to solve that problem? And usually, it unveils the real problem behind, and this is where we can start to look and look for new technology to help us. 

So, I think that's the process we are in there here. The second thing is accepting that we're not going to have the solution straight away. It is not a procurement linear procurement process. It has a lot of iteration in there, a lot of trial and error. And Lara mentioned that as well. 

We know that there is a lot, that's going to be failing, but, and I don't want to sound a little bit, in any failures we will have a lot of learnings. But usually if we know how to accelerate, the next iteration, thanks to the learnings, this is what we need to put in place here. And that's what we need to really, focusing on. So, we'll see, I'll talk to you again in six month’s time, and I'll share more about that experience. 

Lara Ramdin: Because at the other end of the Innovation continuum, I work with the P & L owners in the regions. Right. And so, if you're sitting in a P & L chair, what we're talking about is like, yay, all well and good, but actually I own the P & L. Right?

I'm at the very different end. And so, my job actually is to infuse the Innovation organization with the design thinking approach, which is really about how to create this really valid problem statement. Because I think one of the things that we suffer from is that we want to do everything, and we can't. Right. 

And then if you're a P & L owner trying to unlock some of the challenges with that, right. So, looking at different business models. If it's something that you genuinely believe is going to give you longer term growth that accepting maybe in year one, it's not going to give you the margin that you desired, but it's going to build to that because we are delivering to our promise pillars, and so-and-so, and these are on very, very early days. 

And we're right in the middle of some of those conversations on some of the more disruptive things that we're working on at the moment. So, it's very front of mind for me. And so, it can be tough, but meaningful conversations because you know that, you know, you're moving forward to that aspirational goal of the promise, both from zero waste, nutrition, et cetera, et cetera.

I am empathetic to the P & L owners because I know that they've got very strict financial targets to deliver. But at the other end, you know, embracing technology, and embracing open innovation. So somewhere in the middle, we've got to meet those two. I would say that's probably one of our biggest challenges. We're still figuring this out. Brian, 

Brian Ardinger: That's true. Virtually every corporation, they're trying to balance that exploration, exploitation of their existing business models and making sure those, because those two naturally don't fit well together. And how do you balance that? 

Lara Ramdin: Obviously we can't do business as usual considering some of the more disruptive things, right? So that's sort of an ongoing conversation that we have to have and indeed, this idea that we're iterative is not just for the Innovation group, right? This idea that, it has to work across all the functions that we work with. And that's an ongoing journey for us, for sure. 

Brian Ardinger: Yeah, because if not, it just becomes Innovation theater and you're doing for PR purposes. 

Lara Ramdin: Right. You can't do Innovation on an Island, right. You cannot. And so looking at alternative ways to do Innovation, looking at Innovation in terms of the consumer facing part with other partners in a different way is a big part of my focus. Obviously. I'm sure this will all be familiar to your listeners.

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Brian Ardinger: Yeah, no, it's definitely familiar. It's familiar to our audience members as well as we're all trying to learn together to figure it out, to navigate this new world of work and everything else. 

If people want to engage with Dole, whether it's a startup or other folks that are interested in the initiatives, what's the best way to connect with you and connect with the programs.

Barbara Guerpillon: To start with, www.sunshineforall.com. That would be the best place to start, and we will help them to connect with the rest of the organization. 

Lara Ramdin: I'm also telling people to DM me on LinkedIn if they want to as well. I'm not sure whether that's a good idea or not, again, in the spirit of being open and curious, please feel free.

Brian Ardinger: Well, thank you both for coming on and spending a little bit of time with Inside Outside Innovation. Talk about the stories and we love, we'd love to have you back to continue and figure out what's working and what's not working. Yes. 

Lara Ramdin: Yes, we'll come back in 6 months and tell you what's working 

Brian Ardinger: Thanks very much for being on the show. We'll talk to you again soon.

Lara Ramdin: Thank you. Thanks so much.

Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.


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Originally published April, 2021

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