Say "hello!" to the 2014 DOLE® Summit bloggers! I'll list all of their names and links to their blogs at this end of this post...so stay with me through this LONG line of photos! Last month, I was invited to spend a few days at the DOLE Packaged Food headquarters in Westlake Village, California, for a fun, relaxing and educational time with executives from DOLE, along with nine other bloggers. I think I can speak for all of us when saying we had a blast and learned A LOT!
We started off with a mixer at Chef Ben Ford's restaurant, Ford's Filling Station in Culver City. Jordan, from the blog This Girl Walk Into A Bar, was our host mixologist. She created drinks for us that night using DOLE Packaged products and they were SO good! My favorite was her Golden Summer Cocktail using DOLE frozen pineapples. OH yeah!
Chef Ben Ford served us an endless amount of his best appetizers. I can't even count how many of the Bacon Wrapped Dates I ate...and I probably would be very ashamed if I knew. They were THAT amazing. But, let's talk about Chef Ben. What a super nice guy. I had met him last year in Austin, TX at a luncheon with DOLE, so it was nice to see him again and get to sample more of his food.
The evening was getting late, so we headed for our hour long drive to check in to our hotel rooms. One thing I do not miss about living in Southern California is the traffic. We were staying at the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, right across from the DOLE headquarters. It's a luxury hotel and spa, and boy was it fabulous! The room was elegant (wish I would've snatched a shot of the chandelier!) and the bathroom was huge, with a nice deep tub! That night was the best sleep I had in a very very long time. I'll contribute some of that to not having a baby monitor next to my head, but most of it was from the cushy bed.
The next morning we were up early for breakfast and educational sessions at the DOLE headquarters. Guess what? We just had to walk right across the street to get there! Here we are in the lobby. Check out that huge pineapple mural!
We were served a light breakfast because next on the agenda was a sampling tour and sneak peek of DOLE Packaged Food products. MY favorite part! We started out sampling DOLE Fruit Squish'ems! Let me tell you, since I've returned home, I have bought these now a few times. They have become not only one of my favorite snacks for my kids, but one of MINE, as well! If you follow me on Instagram, you've seen what I'm talking about. I can totally tell the difference between these and other brands. Fruit Squish'ems! retain about 95% of the nutrients, unlike the others. DOLE's goal is to be as close to the natural food and start with as fresh of source as possible by using first of its kind technology. Seriously, guys. I'm not being paid or forced to say any of this. I am a true fan!! 🙂
Next, we tried the Shakers which is an instant smoothie. These are stored in the freezer and have tiny little yogurt balls of frozen fruit and veggies inside. All you have to do is add your liquid (preferably pineapple juice) and shake it! No messy blender required! Each one has a special boost and are made with 50% Greek yogurt and 50% fruit/veggie mixture.
The other product pictured above are the DOLE Dippers. I had actually tried these last year at a blogging conference (the banana kind). Now they have strawberry available which totally makes sense. I mean, dark chocolate and strawberries go together like PB&J, so throw them in the freezer and you get a slow consuming portion controlled dessert!
You can't visit DOLE and not talk pineapple juice. I now stock pineapple juice (the small cans) in my fridge at all times! Why? Because I learned of the health benefits to it, and all the variety of uses! Not only are they great for smoothies, mixed drinks, a fruity dessert and other mixtures... but I will often just grab one straight from the fridge and just drink it! So refreshing! And, it's pure pineapple juice in a BPA-free can.
Why is DOLE pineapple juice stored in a can? Because it protects it from light and acidity of the pineapple juice, which in turn preserves its beautiful color! Look at the difference between other brands who use plastic bottles!
So check out this new product by DOLE Packaged Foods. All natural fruit and whole grain instant oatmeal, served in a portable cup and easy to make! DOLE is the only brand to offer real, wet fruit pieces with the oatmeal, too!
I'm totally excited about this soup. This might not even be out yet.. at least not widely available. But, get ready! It's awesome! DOLE Garden Soup in five different varieties. I tasted one of the Tomato soups and couldn't believe that it was soup from a package! Again, BPA-free packaging and no preservatives!
If you haven't tried any of Mrs. May's products, you need to get on that ASAP. DOLE recently acquired Mrs. May's which serves up healthy snacks that are 100% natural with no preservatives. See those veggie chips above? Get your hands on those! I believe you can find them at Costco, Whole Foods Market, TJ Maxx and Marshall's along with other select grocery stores. And, isn't Mrs. May's so adorable anyway? Yes, that's her above! Well, she's co-founder, Julie Min.
After sampling so much food, I'm surprised we had any room for lunch! We headed into the DOLE cafeteria to order whatever we wanted. If I ever have to work in the corporate world again, I'm going to pray they have a cafeteria like this! The food was made to order and every offered was fresh and healthy!
It was then time to relax and enjoy the Four Seasons Hotel offerings. DOLE generously treated all of the bloggers to a spa treatment. I actually went for a mani/pedi because I was in desperate need for one and at home, I never have the time or money to get one! It felt so good to be pampered! Then I sat out at the pool with a few of my new friends until it was time to get ready for dinner.
Dinner was at Lure's Fish House Oyster Bar. We had a large table and a lot of fabulous food! It's fun dining with other food bloggers because you don't have to feel embarrassed to take photos of your food since you know everyone else will be, too! After dinner we headed to bed. Sigh...
See those granola bars above? They are Almond Date Energy Bars. I could've had 1,000 of them! Just ask my new friend, Leslie... they were amazing!
We came back in to be served a delicious lunch, including a much needed and refreshing Pineapple Apricot Bellini. (I'll be sharing this recipe soon!) Then it was time to say our goodbyes. So sad to depart from the new friendships I made, but I walked away with a smile on my face because...
...I got to spend the rest of the weekend with this cutie! DOLE graciously waited to fly me back home on Sunday so I could spend a few days with one of my best friend's and her new baby! Yay! Thank you, DOLE and thank you, Finn Partners, for coordinating such a wonderful event and taking the time to educate us while treating us to a fun and relaxing few days!
A few top educational take-aways from my trip:
- Although DOLE has always been one of my favorite brands, the information I learned during this trip amplified my enthusiasm for their products.
- DOLE may be a large company, but it has small company practices and treats their employees well. DOLE builds communities, homes and schools for their workers.
- DOLE products are GMO-free and less processed but shelf stable and safe for people to consume.
- There is no sugar added in DOLE fruit bowls, and no artificial sweeteners. Instead, they use monk fruit.
- A common theme for DOLE is they stay away from adding refined sugars.
- Did you know it takes 18 months to grow ONE pineapple!? And then the crown of the pineapple is used to grow another.
- DOLE has been using the same pineapple juice and fruit canning process for over 100 years!
James Dole had a recipe contest in 1925 with 60,000 entries! Can you imagine that in a time when there wasn't Internet for quick submission?? This is how the Pineapple Upside Down Cake was born! Now you have a chance to create the next DOLE Packaged Foods inspired recipe! DOLE kicked off its 6th annual Cook-Off competition on March 31st. Head to Dole.com/cookoff to submit your small-plate grilling recipe that incorporate a DOLE packaged food product for your chance to win $25,000!!! I know you can do it because my friend, Ally, won the competition last year!!
Disclosure: DOLE® Packaged Foods paid for my all-expense trip, but this is not a paid sponsored post. The writing in this article and the opinions expressed are 100% mine. I'm very happy to share with you my enthusiasm for one of my favorite food products!
Check out these other fine bloggers who attend the Dole Summit with me:
Amelia - Eating Made Easy
Pattie - Living Mi Vida Loca
Ally - Ally's Kitchen
Katie - Once A Month Meals
Kristy - The Wicked Noodle
Leslie - Hungry Housewife
Amy - Super Healthy Kids
Chrystal - Duo Dishes
Sara - Average Betty
Catherine - Rabbit Food For My Bunny Teeth