Six Questions with Frances Dillard, Director of Marketing for Driscoll’s

From by Lani Furbank
Six Questions with Frances Dillard, Director of Marketing for Driscoll’s

Food Tank, in partnership with American University, is hosting the 2nd Annual Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. on April 20–21, 2016. 

This two-day event will feature more than 75 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for panels on topics including food waste, urban agriculture, family farmers, farm workers, and more. 

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Frances Dillard, the Director of Marketing for Driscoll’s. Driscoll's is one of the sponsors of the summit.

Food Tank (FT): What drives you and your company to push for sustainability?

FD: Driscoll’s is a family-owned company with more than 100 years of farming heritage. 

As a multi-generational company, we define sustainability as meeting our present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. We see economic performance as inseparable from social and environmental performance. We also work with hundreds of independent growers who are deeply embedded in their local communities. It’s interesting how Driscoll’s can positively impact the future of those communities for future generations when in fact, each of the hundreds of growers are individual businesses with their own priorities and goals. There is a lot of collaboration, partnership, and open dialogue on how we can work together towards sustainability goals. 

Driscoll’s also partners to improve sustainable farming practices through improving farming efficiency, from water conservation to organic farming practices. We support innovations that our independent growers are championing and then ensure best practices are deployed for long-term improvements throughout our grower network.

Driscoll’s is also taking greater responsibility over the social and human implications to good practices of sustainability. We are doing our best to improve people conditions as much as resource management. It is a humbling experience, but we are optimistic of the role we can play to make the world a better place for people and preserve resources.

FT: What is the biggest food related issue facing our planet right now? How is your company working to solve that problem?

FD: Driscoll’s is working on three areas that encompass both environmental and social factors.

1. Driscoll’s is driving stronger water conservation: scarcity, quality, and safety. Driscoll’s is creating measuring systems. Driscoll’s is accomplishing increased collaboration from independent growers. Driscoll’s is investing in research on how much water a crop really needs.

2. Driscoll’s is innovating organic farming practices with a focus on certification, education, advocacy, and promotion of organic products. This past summer, we announced a broad expansion of organic nursery plant production and a commitment to providing all of Driscoll’s USDA-certified organic growers with organic nursery plants. This stems from seven years invested in research. Driscoll’s nursery operations are proud of the many years invested in researching the viability of providing organically grown strawberry plants. Currently, Driscoll’s is the only brand with an organic strawberry nursery certified by the California Certified Organic Farms (CCOF). This significant accomplishment speaks to our long-term commitment to roll out the program across all berries in the coming years.

3. Sustainability was once viewed as preserving “environmental resources” and less consideration was given to the human factor. Our priority has expanded to include a deeper worker welfare commitment and to ensure that farmworkers who are employed by our independent growers are treated with consideration and respect, that their workplaces are clean and healthy, and that employment within the Driscoll’s system continues to provide a voice, opportunity, and a sufficient income to live with dignity.

Driscoll’s is upholding the following commitments around worker welfare:

  • Driscoll’s has always required that all independent farmers in our network comply with all laws and regulations.
  • In addition, Driscoll’s has put in place Global Worker Welfare standards that are based upon the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and recommendations, the Global Social Compliance Program (GSCP) standards, the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) standards, and a collaborative review of agriculture-specific standards from several non-governmental organizations.
  • Driscoll’s Global Worker Welfare standards place a premium on worker safety and feature a zero-tolerance policy towards child labor, health and safety conditions, and the abuse of workers.
  • Driscoll’s Worker Welfare standards do ensure workers have the freedom to choose (or not to choose) to establish, affiliate, and take action in free and independent legal workers’ organizations without interference or reprisals.
  • Driscoll’s works with an independent, third-party auditing firm to ensure Worker Welfare standards are being upheld. They are conducting disciplined assessments and third-party audits of their growers, including in Mexico.

In addition, as a trusted brand and supplier, Driscoll’s continues to demonstrate proactive measures by leading key initiatives within the agriculture industry. A Driscoll's senior executive was elected to lead the International Produce Alliance to Promote a Socially Responsible Industry (AHIFORES), placing Driscoll’s at the center of an effort to improve working conditions for hundreds of thousands of farm laborers in Mexico.

Driscoll’s has also launched a small pilot program with Fair Trade USA with their largest grower in Baja. The funds generated through certified fair trade berries can positively impact the farm workers who picked the berries and the communities in which they live. Driscoll’s berries grown and harvested as part of this pilot program are sold at select Costco locations.

FT: Do you have any enlightening stories to share of collaboration between your business and other businesses or organizations that have changed your business practices?

FD: When it came to water conservation, we started in our own backyard. Pajaro Valley’s primary water source is groundwater, which is in a state of severe overdraft. On an annual basis, groundwater is being pumped at twice the rate that the aquifer can safely withstand. As a result of overpumping, seawater intrusion (which has been an issue since the 1950s) continues to worsen, diminishing and contaminating the basin's water supply.

In 2010, we helped launch the Community Water Dialogue, a collaborative coalition of landowners, farmers, and government agencies to address Pajaro Valley’s water crisis.

The three goals of the dialogue were to protect the Pajaro Valley as an important agricultural resource, to recognize that importing water in with a pipeline was not a solution, and that its members be willing to implement diverse strategies that will entail costs and sacrifices in order to bring the aquifer in balance.

Additional efforts around water conservation include:

  • Conducting water use research and data collection
  • Piloting irrigation technologies and efficiencies
  • Conducting farmer irrigation trainings and extension
  • Researching nutrient management and leaching
  • Partnering with farmers, the Resource Conservation District, and Sustainable Conservation to develop performance-based incentives to reduce water use and improve water quality
  • Creating the first private groundwater recharge project in collaboration with the University of California, Santa Cruz

FT: What changes would you like to see from the U.S. government to support sustainability in the food system?

FD: In 2014, Driscoll’s announced its involvement in Connect the Drops, a campaign that combines the voices of diverse companies into a single call to action demanding bolder water management policies and solutions for California. Other businesses in the Connect the Drops campaign are General Mills, Coca-Cola North America, and KB Homes.

FT: What was a turning point in your company and why?

FD: Being a good steward of the planet and its resources has always been a priority for our multi-generational, privately-held family company. However, we became more deliberate and conscious of our sustainability practices when we began to expand our business beyond the United States. The consumer market economic opportunity for berries is significant, especially when you look at countries like China. Sustainable practices become even more important as we expand our footprint. Our business model of empowering and partnering with local independent growers who have a vested interest in the well-being of their local communities is key. We work closely with our farmers, supply-chain partners, and the communities in which we operate to address the environmental risks to our business and their local communities. Our collaborative approach allows us to have a greater impact beyond berry production and take advantage of external expertise and capabilities.

FT: What three things do you want your customers to know about your company?

FD: As a multi-generational, family business with more than 100 years of farming heritage, we are committed to long-term sustainable practices and view the process as a journey to continually improve and learn. We don’t have all the answers, but we are trying our best. Driscoll’s is one of the few berry companies with a dedicated research and development program for proprietary berry varieties grown exclusively for our network of independent growers. We believe our independent grower model empowers local growers to more aggressively innovate and embrace sustainable practices because their communities positively benefit both short-term and long-term. There is an interdependency on human relationships and the greater good at the local level.

Driscoll’s is considered an early adopter and innovator when it comes to improving farming practices and efficiencies, which speaks to our pioneering spirit. As leaders, we feel the responsibility to pave the way for sustainable practices and improvements within the broader agriculture industry. There is an advantage to a company our size willing to impact change for the greater good.

To find out more about the event, see the full list of speakers, and purchase tickets, please click HERE. Interested participants who cannot join can also sign up for the livestream HERE.

To join us at Food Tank's São Paulo, Brazil Summit in September 2016, please click HERE. To join us at Food Tank's Sacramento, CA Summit on September 22–23, 2016, please click HERE. To join us at Food Tank's Chicago, IL Summit on November 16–17, 2016, please click HERE

Want to become a sponsor of the Food Tank Summit? Please click HERE

Want to suggest a speaker for one of the Summits? Please click HERE

Want to watch videos from last year's Food Tank Summit? Please click HERE

Sponsors for this year's Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. include: Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Chaia DC, Chipotle, Clif Bar, D.C. Government, Driscoll's, Edible DC, Elevation Burger, Fair Trade USA, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Global Environmental Politics Program of the School of International Service, Greener Media, Inter Press Service, Leafware, Niman Ranch, Organic Valley, Panera Bread, and VegFund. 

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