Women in CSR: Robin Connell, Del Monte Foods

Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.

Robin Connell headshotTriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.

Robin Connell: I’m the Manager for Sustainability Programs at Del Monte Foods. I am responsible for the development and implementation of Del Monte Foods’ sustainability program, from environmental reduction goals, responsible sourcing to employee engagement. In 2008, I achieved an M.B.A. in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. I’d say I’ve been in the business of sustainability indirectly since UCSB (c.1996) where I studied sustainable urban planning and during my tenure at Dwell Magazine (c. 2006-2009) which focuses on sustainable art, architecture and planning.

3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?

RC: Del Monte is over 100 years old and founded in agriculture – essential to our quality of life over time. Since the beginning, the company partnered very closely with its growers to develop the best varieties that are high yield and high recovery, as well as the best pest management practices that help reduce the need for inputs leading to reduced environmental impacts. As of late, the company is evolving from its continuous improvement efforts with regards to environmental indicators in our operations and agricultural practices, to incorporating the inclusion of environmental and social key performance indicators within our supply chain– complimented by becoming more transparent with our story.

3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey and how.

RC: My parents. Early on, they recognized my love for the ocean and the outdoors. They bought me my first microscope and telescope at an early age; Jacques Cousteau coloring books in elementary school; recycling books in high school; enlisted me as a volunteer at local food banks; scheduled a tour of Yosemite when I graduated college – it doesn’t end, I could go on and on and on how they cultivated my interests so that I would do something about it.

3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?

RC: Eat your fruits and vegetables.

3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?

Robin Connell Rafting 033
The American River Run with my best friends.

RC: I am extremely proud and humbled by my fellow employees’ motivation and mobilization around sustainability issues. The manufacturing plants are making huge inroads toward reducing landfill by 77 percent as well as engaging their workforce to conserve and optimize energy and water. Our supply chain teams show support by assisting in the development of an ethical sourcing program and joining EcoDesk. Our Agricultural Services team is regularly engaged and active with sustainability research projects at universities and through the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops. Del Monte’s sustainability program and efforts are evolving and progressing due to the extraordinary, collaborative efforts from our employees.

3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?

RC: Clone Paul Polman, Jason Clay, Gene Kahn, Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford.

3p: Describe your perfect day.

RC: River rafting with friends and family while a French baguette and a beer or a refreshing cocktail await my return to shore.



Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

3 responses

  1. Thanks to Robin’s background at the Presidio MBA program, Dwell & such, I take it on faith that she has the best intentions, and has the very difficult, & arguably noble, task of trying to promote positive change within an old-school, billion dollar corporation. And I appreciate the thanklessness of her work since Del Monte actually lags behind its competitors (Dole, Chiquita) on social & environmental reforms, even though those other firms are themselves no paragons of enlightened thinking or sustainability.

    Therefore – in the spirit of helping Robin “make the case for change” within Del Monte – I ask:

    #1 How do you, or your higher-ups, respond to assertion that Del Monte is a laggard in the banana industry when it comes to socio/eco reforms? (See: http://www.usleap.org/usleap-initiatives/-banana-worker-justice-initiative/more-information-banana-workers/top-banana-com-3 )

    #2 How is Del Monte going to respond to the ongoing crisis in Costa Rica where Del Monte subsidiary Bandeco fired 59 workers who were trying to form a union in December, and are now going hungry due to the lack of both salaries and the subsequent shuttering of the grocery stores in the community.
    (Interested readers can go to http://www.freshfruitportal.com/2013/06/21/del-monte-banana-strikers-critically-hungry-in-costa-rica/?country=united%20states for more details).

    1. Thanks for your inquiry, Rodney. However, your questions seem more for Fresh Del Monte Produce based out of Florida and under different ownership. I know it’s confusing because our logos are similar, but we are two totally separate companies with different ownership. When we were divested in the nineties, the agreement enabled both companies to share licensing, hence the similar logos/branding. Del Monte Foods is based out of San Francisco and produces canned, not fresh, fruits, tomatoes and vegetables as well as pet foods. We source about ninety-five percent of our consumer food from the United States and do not produce fresh produce including bananas and fresh fruit from Costa Rica. You can check out our company at http://www.delmontefoods.com and then I found this link for Fresh Del Monte Produce, Inc. http://www.freshdelmonte.com/.

  2. Hi Robin,
    Thank you for the explanation, even if the split into two seemingly identical companies/brands is hard to keep track of. And given what you describe it seems that behavior & policies of the _other_ Del Monte (Fresh Del Monte Produce) is , and will continue to be, a potential risk to the brand image of _your_ Del Monte (Del Monte Foods). Would you agree? And if you that Q takes you into dicey territory I’d understand if you’d rather not answer it.

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