Dole and Disney: An Enchanted Partnership

(Image Credit: Magical Recipes, http://www.magicalrecipes.net/aloha-isle-dole-whip-recipe/)

The Dole Whip and various products mentioned in this article are the respective property of The Dole Food Company and The Walt Disney Company.

Ah, pineapples. The mere mention of the fruit invokes visions of tropical beaches and vacation cocktails. A fruit with regal appearance that served as a status symbol in the eighteenth century, it has made its impact on cuisine as an accompaniment for ham, a key component of a rum-soaked cake turned upside down, and an unfairly maligned pizza topping, as well as a crucial part of the visual imagination of tropical tourist destinations.

If someone were to ask where pineapples come from, the gut reaction answer (particularly from an Amerocentric point of view) would be that they come from Hawaii, the golden fruit part of the iconography of the 50th state along with volcanoes, surfing, and a truly awful exhibition football game. And yes, of the approximately 154,000 tonnes of pineapple produced in the United States, the vast majority come from the tropical Hawaiian Islands. But, the United States (and therefore Hawaii) actually rank 26th when it comes to worldwide pineapple production, dwarfed by the output of top producing countries Costa Rica, Brazil, and the Philippines. Nevertheless, pineapples remain part of the essentialization and commodification of Hawaiian imagery today, a base association owing in large part to the colonial relationship that still exists between Hawaii and the continental states.

Hawaii’s association with pineapple production and the fruit in general is due to the efforts of The Dole Food Company, formed from the merger between Castle & Cooke and the Hawaiian Pineapple Company in the early twentieth century, the latter of which was founded in 1901 by the eponymous James Dole. Dole purchased land throughout the islands for pineapple plantations, in particular a 20,000 acre holding that would become a plantation on the island of Lānaʻi, the largest plantation dedicated to growing pineapple. Combining new mechanized technology, developing machinery that could peel, core, and process anywhere from 35 to 100 pineapples per minute, with exploitative labor (as if “plantation” didn’t give that away), the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, and therefore the Dole Food Company, dominated the production of canned pineapple, producing seventy percent of the world’s pineapple crop by 1923.

But, it wasn’t through mass production alone that Dole Food Company became synonymous with canned, frozen, and even fresh pineapple. Dole and the Hawaiian Pineapple Company launched a mass advertising campaign beginning in the 1920s, tying pineapple to the latest culinary fashions along with the landscape of Hawaii. Dole Food Company along with eight other companies made Hawaii the largest producer of pineapples up to the 1950s, pineapples and America’s tropical outpost becoming one and the same in the minds of consumers. But, the desire for cheap labor led Dole along with others to shift operations to Thailand and the Philippines, with the Dole Pineapple Cannery eventually closing in 1991.

Despite the fact that pineapple production, both fresh and canned varieties, shifted to other parts of the globe, pineapples remain something fundamentally Hawaiian (and by default American) in conception, with many consumers (myself included) not truly considering where the fruit comes from. Many fresh pineapples that you find in the supermarket come from Mexico or other Central American countries. Dole Pineapple Juice, a product packed and shipped by the company most associated with Hawaiian pineapple, is a product of the Philippines. Nevertheless, through advertising, media, reputation, and tradition, pineapple and Dole products in particular remain “American” in the imagination.

This brings us to Dole Food Company’s longstanding partnership with Disney, a continuation of the aggressive marketing strategies used by the fruit company and an  alliance that has furthered the prestige of both corporate entities since the late twentieth century. Dole and Disney both stress their ties to wholesomeness and market their products as family-friendly, and have increasingly worked in tandem with one another over the past few years. While Dole markets its produce as healthy for mind and body, Disney views its media as nourishment for happiness and the soul, assumed goodwill and integrity key components of both brands. The cooperation between Dole and Disney resulted in a dessert that fans claim is just as magical as the rides and characters at Disneyland and Disney World, the “Dole Whip.”

The partnership between Dole and Disney began in 1976, when Dole Food Company took over the primary sponsorship for one of the most well-known attractions at Disneyland, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Debuting in 1963, the Enchanted Tiki Room is a Polynesian themed attraction celebrating island romance and wonder in a magical theater-in-the-round. Initially serving pineapple juice and fruit spears, the Dole Whip came into being in 1986, a dessert similar to soft-serve ice cream made with Dole brand pineapple juice powder. A sweet treat now made entirely with vegan ingredients, the tropical themed dessert spread to other Disney parks, now being sold in Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney’s Polynesian Resort, and attracted a cult following, with 1.3 million Dole Whips purchased on an annual basis. Though the dish can also be found at the Dole Plantation tourist attraction in Oahu, Disney has created “Dole Whip devotees,” with merchandise created in homage to the cult classic along with a podcast named after the theme park dessert.

The Dole Whip adds to the allure of Disney parks, a beloved food item with a false sense of exclusivity that attracts fans young and old, spurring demand for vacation pilgrimages to Disney parks. The belief that a proper Dole Whip can only be found in “the happiest place on earth” and the fact that the dessert consistently appears on “best food at Disney” lists boosts the reputation and “magic” associated with all things Disney. For Dole Food Company, the cult status of the Dole Whip boosts the exposure of and reputation for Dole fruit products, while the continued sponsorship of the Enchanted Tiki Room perpetuates the assumption that pineapples and Dole pineapple packing are fundamentally connected to the culture of Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. Moreover, the presence and popularity of Dole within Disney parks helps tie the company to American pop culture and ephemera, marketing itself in alliance with Disney, one of the brands most associated with Americana. Though having long shifted operations out of the Hawaiian Islands, Dole and it’s products remain tied to the consumer consciousness as American aided in large part through its partnership with Disney.

Dole superhero
Image Credit: The Packer, https://www.thepacker.com/article/marvel-superheroes-coming-dole-produce

The collaboration between Disney and Dole does not end with the Dole Whip, as the two companies have increasingly worked with one another in the past few decades, their cooperation reinforcing hallmarks of family-friendly products and all in all wholesomeness. To understand the structure and function of this alliance outside of Disney parks, one must look at another popular yellow fruit mass produced by Dole Food Company, the banana.

Since 2016, select fresh produce items, particularly bananas distributed by Dole, have featured stickers and logos with various Disney and Pixar characters, ranging from Finding Dory and the upcoming Lion King remake to a celebration of the 90th anniversary of Mickey Mouse’s existence. Rather than simply your imagination tricking you into thinking you’re seeing the presence of Disney, its characters, and merchandise everywhere you go, this part of a co-branded effort to “provide high quality produce to help families lead healthier lives.”

Both companies previously launched their own respective programs for nutritional science, with Dole creating the Dole Nutrition Institute in 2003 and Disney launching its Nutrition Guideline Policy and the “Mickey Check” in 2006, the latter of which marking nutritional sound food items with the stamp of Disney’s famous mascot. While nutrition and the incorporation of more fruits and vegetables is certainly important, the collaborative effort furthers the desire for Disney and Dole to stress the wholesomeness of their respective brands and for Dole to entrench itself within consumer consciousness as an American company.

For Disney, establishing nutrition standards and programs helps the company already adored by many garner further goodwill, earning the trust of children and their parents purchasing products with Disney characters. Furthermore, specifically labeling bananas ensures brand exposure, making sure children and families have visual hints about upcoming Disney features. Bananas serve a popular and convenient snack food for many, with Americans consuming about 19 pounds per capita of bananas annually and more than 100 billion eaten around the globe, but they are often a snack given to children, the target audience for Disney products as well as the marketing push with Dole. Working with Dole to brand fruits and vegetables with Disney characters helps to augment Disney’s claims about pursuing nutrition, but also ensures that young consumers of bananas get a frequent reminder about upcoming films and further entrenches Disney characters within the psyche of youth. As the saying goes, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, while a banana a day makes sure you see Toy Story 4 on opening weekend.

The reinvigorated partnership certainly benefits the Dole Food Company as well, a mutually beneficial alliance in the same manner as the Dole Whip. Dole fruits and vegetables marked with stickers or logos featuring Disney characters or the Mickey check help transfer the goodwill associated with all things Disney to Dole products, a bag of salad greens or a bunch of bananas getting the approval of Mickey and Minnie Mouse meaning more to children (or even adults) than adhering to the guidelines of the FDA. Furthermore, the presence of Disney iconography on Dole products establishes Dole Food Company and its bananas, pineapples, and other produce as something fundamentally American, tying goods from all around the world to one of the hallmarks of American pop and corporate culture. No matter where said produce comes from or how it is harvested and brought to the supermarket shelf, the collaboration between Disney and Dole conveys trust, wholesomeness, and Americana.

Though Disney is no stranger to corporate synergy and brand alliance, working extensively with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Burger King throughout the late twentieth century, its association with Dole is truly interesting. Rather than simply an alliance based on financial incentives or a recent contract won by the highest bidder, the partnership between Dole and Disney is one in which reputation iconography and seem to be the biggest concern. The Dole Whip ensures that people are aware of Dole’s role in pineapple packing while also adding to the mystique and lore of Disney parks. Moreover, recent efforts at co-branding help to reinforce the brand mission toward health and wholesomeness for both products as well as ensuring the omnipresence of Disney characters and helping Dole latch on to a key component of American pop culture. Though Hawaii is no longer the center of world pineapple canning and production, the fruit and islands remain tied to one another because of Dole’s history and dominance of the industry, this conceptualization no doubt strengthened by the alliance between Dole produce, the Enchanted Tiki Room, and Disney.

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