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Dole relocates research facility

by Chip Carter | July 22, 2010
Dole Food Co. Inc. recently relocated its nutrition research operations from Westlake Village, CA, to Kannapolis, NC, opening a 10,000-square-foot laboratory at the North Carolina Research Campus in late May.

Dole joins other giants like General Mills Inc., Monsanto and LabCorp — along with eight North Carolina colleges and universities — with a presence at the burgeoning think tank, which opened in October 2008 on the site of a former textile mill.

The campus currently has 750,000 square feet of office and laboratory space, including many communal facilities. The ultimate buildout calls for more than 4 million square feet of space on 350 acres over the next decade or so.

The Dole Nutrition Institute is a research and education foundation created in 2003 by David H. Murdock, chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based Castle & Cooke Inc., which in turn owns Dole. Castle & Cooke also administers the research campus, a public-private venture that was established at Mr. Murdock's behest and with seed money from his various holdings.

After a career in research, Nicholas Gillitt joined Dole five years ago. When offered a chance to head research at the new facility, Dr. Gillitt wasted no time accepting.

Jennifer Grossman, a Dole vice president who administers the institute, told The Produce News, "Nick came from the world of pure science and was willing to support all our educational efforts here and wear many different hats. He proved himself and rose to recognition within the entire company, so this is a wonderful reward after all of those years. It’s great to have him back in the lab with the white coat and the equipment and doing the work he knows best."

Ms. Grossman said that the institute’s research facility in California “really wasn’t much of a lab. A lab is a very hands-on thing. You need to be there not just in working hours but around the clock. Science doesn’t always run on a corporate schedule — someone has to be there 24-7 doing the experiments.”

At the campus, Dr. Gillitt has a remarkable arsenal of research equipment with which to work at his disposal. “The laboratory we have here is heads and tails above what we had in California. It’s larger, there’s more instrumentation — everything will be able to be done faster and in more depth,” he said. “This campus was created through Mr. Murdock’s vision. All of a sudden, Dole had the opportunity to have a huge laboratory here, so why not take that opportunity?”

He continued, “This is the stuff that I as a scientist see as particularly exciting. You have the budget you need, the instruments you need, [equipment that is] the best in the world, bigger and more powerful than anywhere else on the planet. They’re all at your disposal. It’s just a fantastic situation to be in for a scientist.”

Dr. Gillitt described the research campus as “the intersection of human health, agriculture and medicine. Those three things combine to create a funnel, a pipeline of research. We at Dole are very interested and vested in the nutritional aspect and potentially the agricultural aspect as well. It’s just such a wonderful combination of the whole gamut of these things in one place, attracting some of the brightest and most famous scientists in the world. I think that’s the recipe for success.”

Dr. Gillitt’s research will be focused on “understanding nutrition and how it affects human health. We sell the most nutritious and healthy products in the entire world, but the problem is people don’t eat enough of them. You have two choices: Convince them to eat more of them or give them ones that are better.”

He added, “From the laboratory perspective, the thing that Mr. Murdock finds particularly interesting is the secondary metabolites present in fruits and vegetables. You have the primary ones like vitamins and minerals, then the secondary phytochemicals. He is very interested in finding out what those compounds are and how much of those are present in what Dole sells. I create improved nutritional versions of our products.”

Ms. Grossman was quick to note, however, that the focus of the new facility is “not just going to be cold science. It will be published in peer-reviewed journals, but in addition to that, we have already set up a publishing unit in- house over the years that can get that information to the people who need it. This is a really unique and effective combination of research and educational apparatus.”

Added Dr. Gillitt, “With the Dole Nutrition Institute in California, we have one of the best ways of disseminating the information that we find here. It’s one thing to discover all these things, it’s quite another to communicate those findings to the public.”