Dole Packaged Foods gives employees a taste of Hawaii and the Rose Parade

by Laura Berthold Monteros

Every year, Dole Packaged Foods gathers its employees in the Fiesta Parade Floats barn right next to their float, and gives them a party that spans the holiday season. The event was held on Dec. 11, and was attended by both Santa Claus and the Tournament of Roses Royal Court. We dropped in for some photos, conversation, and a delicious luau, including haupia, a Hawaiian dessert. Check out the photo gallery below for snapshots of the fun.

The 2017 Dole float, “Spirit of Hawaii,” features three important and very different figures: King Kamehameha I, founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii; Pele, goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes; and Sebastian, the parrot who rode with the late Raul Rodriguez on floats he designed. In the six years Dole Packaged Foods has entered the Rose Parade, the floats have won five Sweepstakes and one Director’s Trophy. The 2017 entry is designed by Stanley Meyer. It has a working volcano and four real waterfalls flowing down the side of the mountain and cascading from a floral bridge. Dancers, including a fire dancer, and drummers will accompany the float as outwalkers and on the bridge.

We spoke about the float with Monica Spiro, Associate Manager of Events for Dole, and Dave Spare, Vice President, Marketing, about the community involvement of the company. It’s a tradition for some of the riders to be the children of Dole associates, and this year, Spiro’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna will be aboard. Spiro said the company tries to match the parade theme in the float design. The 128th Rose Parade theme is “Echoes of Success.”

“‘Spirit of Hawaii’ makes sense, since the company started in Hawaii,” she said. She brings the float theme into the party with elements that will be fun for the families, which can be seen in the photo gallery. It’s a way of sharing the Dole vision and heritage with the associates and their families. All associates are invited, and about 250 came to the luau.

“It’s really nice, because it’s a way for associates who can’t go to the parade to experience the float,” Spiro said. Another way is for associates to participate in decorating the float. Fiesta Parade Floats brings the giant plumeria, that will encircle the float like a lei, to the company headquarters in Westlake Village for associates to decorate with rice, and about 15-20 people will come to the Irwindale barn to decorate. Part of the entryway is dedicated to the float, with animal sculptures from previous floats and photos of the floats.

“It’s a way to touch, see, and feel the float,” she said. “We try to look at all the different ways people can experience this.”

Dole is also part of Live on Green, a pre-parade event with activities, displays, food, and entertainment. The company sponsors a food booth where Dole Whips can be purchased, the special treat usually available only at Disneyland. Dole has sponsored the Tiki Room for 40 years, and even reserved the room for a national meeting, where dessert was served.

“We want everyone to have a good time and have fun,” Spiro said. “There’s something for everyone.” And, she added, “Sebastian is still in front” on the float.

Dave Spare shared Dole Packaged Foods’ commitment to aiding non-profits that help people in need. The president and CEO of one of those organizations will ride on the float on Jan. 2. Food Share, the largest food bank in Ventura County, receives millions of pounds of healthy food from Dole every year, Spare said. The food is still within its expiration date and includes frozen, canned, and prepared items and 99 percent of Dole products are non-GMO.

“We were way ahead of the GMO movement,” Spare said. “On the float, all the fruit is non-GMO. It’s more expensive, but [consumers] are getting purer fruit.”

In addition to products and cash, Dole employees volunteer thousands of hours each year to charity work, including Food Share, Spare said. He volunteers at Ventura County Rescue Mission. Employees can take time off work for volunteering, so they don’t have to use vacation days.

If the company works to create  community spirit among its US employees, it helps to create a community overseas. Spare said the Dole Packaged Foods operation in the Philippines is the largest in the world, but there’s a lot of poverty in that country. Dole has built roads, schools and hospitals, and offers free medical care and free schooling. With an increase in hiring, there is a shortage of housing, so the company built 74 homes this year and plans to build 72 next year.

“The employees help to build them,” he said. “It’s like Habitat for Humanity.” Spare has worked for Dole Packaged Foods for 20 years, and he said the other vice presidents have worked 15 to 30 years. “It’s just a great company,” he said.

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