Two weeks ago, I drove to the airport at 4 am with Susan to head out to California for a salad-filled trip.
The Dole Summit was held in Monterey, California, not far from the Dole offices and the fields we visited in the Salinas Valley. We got into Monterey around 3 pm Wednesday afternoon and were starving, so it didn’t take us long to find Paula and grab lunch at the Cannery Row Brewing Company.
If you go – make sure you get a beer and these mini corn dogs. This is the lunch of champions after being in the airport for 9 hours.
After taking a short rest and some time to freshen up, we headed down to a small reception to meet the other bloggers and the Dole team.
I can’t say enough about the group – everyone we met from Marketing to Product Development to the Growers themselves were so friendly and welcoming and answered any questions we had about Dole, their vegetables, their practices, and were happy to share their love of salad with all of us.
After meeting everyone and sharing Arugula Mojitos (omg so good – will be making soon here for you!), we walked over to a landmark restaurant for dinner – The Sardine Factory.
And I don’t know how this happened, but I didn’t even stay long enough for dessert! This is…unheard of. But with the time change and the long day of travel, by the time my scallops came to the table, I had already been up for over 24 hours and I just couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.
Plus, I was really excited for the next day – the farm tours!
I don’t go on many trips like this and I try to be very picky about where I go and who I go with. I don’t want to go on trips with companies that I don’t already buy from or use their products in my own home, and Dole is definitely a company that falls in line with that.
Nick and I garden – a lot – and most of our lettuce comes from our own yard, but when I need some and ours is gone or I need a special kind that we don’t grow ourselves, Dole is one brand that I usually reach for. I also think of myself as a pretty well-informed consumer, but getting the chance to see the farms and the packaging plant and meet the team and farmers is something I wouldn’t have had otherwise. And that experience definitely taught me more about the company than I was expecting to learn on this trip and, ultimately, gives me even more information as a consumer.
After seeing their fields, watching the process of harvesting and washing and bagging, and talking with one of their growers, now I know why their salads are so good.
We started the day with a trip to Dole HQ to try some of their newest salad mixes (I’ll be sharing my favorite with you soon – I’ve had it 5 times since I’ve been back!). We also had the chance to ask questions and find out more about the company and Dole’s Salad’tude — a new marketing campaign that focuses on finding your own personal salad style.
Basically – they want everyone to eat more fruits and vegetables. And so do I! Dole is the largest producer of vegetables in the world, but when you step onto the fields and talk with the growers who have been working with dole for generations, you would never think that this wasn’t anything more than a co-op of friends and family, working together to grow a ton – literally – of vegetables.
Before heading over to the fields, we stopped in Carmel and had the best lunch of my life at La Bicyclette. I seriously have had dreams about their carrot risotto since I got back. I would consider moving to California just to eat there every week. Oh, who am I kidding – every day! I would probably just work there.
This pile of iceberg leaves right here? They’re the outer leaves from the heads they were harvesting, and those outer leaves get used as fertilizer for the fields. Lettuce leaves turned into fertilizer = the ultimate recycling. I was happy to see that those weren’t just wasted.
The most important things I learned?
- Dole does not use any GMOs in their salad production – ever. I was definitely surprised to hear this (bad assumption on my part) but it’s so encouraging to know.
- And what about pesticides? Yes, for growing, they do use some but the team told us that post-wash testing has shown 85% of their products have no traces left when they go out to the public, which is because the lettuce is washed at least three times in the packaging plant before heading out to the grocery store shelves. Not exactly like home grown lettuce, but pretty close.
- Dole currently does not offer organic options, but they are involved with integrative pest management and natural means wherever possible.
- Another awesome tidbit we learned (that isn’t on the packaging at all) is that their recyclable plastic is made from 70% previously recycled materials.
After touring the fields, we headed to the processing plant to see the washing, chopping, and bagging process in action and we took a lettuce quiz – I didn’t even know there were so many varieties! I definitely did not win, but I knew more than I thought I would.
Once the quiz was over, we got to hear Gil Oetzel, director of new product development, talk about his role and his passion. He definitely understands that plants are living and that life continues to act out in the plant, even after harvest. That fact is what keeps him working towards finding and creating the perfect packaging to keeping their salads and vegetables at their peak until they get to your table.
To close out the day, we were treated to a full Salad Party at the Intercontinental with all the bloggers and the Dole Team. Over grilled salads, salad pizzas, salads topped with scallops, salad wraps – you name it – we had the chance to chat with the team and get to know the other bloggers on the trip, the foodies who make these trips so much fun. It’s nice to not be the only person taking a picture of your lunch.
All in all, I’m happy I went on this trip. It was eye opening to really see what happens behind the scenes at a large company like Dole, especially considering that it didn’t feel like a huge conglomerate. I made new friends, heard some great things about a company I already buy from at home, and had the chance to chat with the farmers themselves.
May is National Salad Month – I hope you’re celebrating!
Special thanks to Dole, who sponsored this visit to Monterey and the entire blogger summit; as well as to DGWB, who organized and coordinated travel, activities and events. While this trip was sponsored, I was not compensated for this post or for my thoughts. All opinions – as always – are my own.