Origin of Disney’s Dole Whip isn’t Hawaii but San Francisco

The Dole Whip soft serves in a regular cup at Dole Plantation on Oahu’s North Shore.

Diane SW Lee

Dole was founded in Hawaii, so I always thought Dole Whip was a Hawaii creation. I grew up seeing pineapple fields, the Dole name splashed around many places, going to the movies at Regal Dole Cannery, and seeing people in line for Dole Whips at the heavily touristed Dole Plantation and at shops around corners in Waikiki.

I never understood Dole Whip’s immense popularity until I visited Disneyland a few years ago and saw the lines for Dole Whip there as well. As a child, I ate a Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream bar with my parents at Disney World, and now I crave them each time I visit to relive that memory again. I imagine it’s a similar feeling for some people, but with Dole Whip.

“Everything you eat at Disneyland just tastes better there, and I think that the guest just knows that it is part of the experience,” Marcy Smothers told SFGATE. She’s the author of three Disney books, including “Eat Like Walt: The Wonderful World of Disney Food.” “The atmosphere makes the treat as great as the treat itself. People grow up with that treat and would have the treat they had when they were kids.”

James Dole founded the Hawaiian Pineapple Company in Hawaii in 1901. Though he wasn’t the first to grow pineapples in Hawaii, he was the most successful.

In 2013, Kofi Debrah, a Dole field supervisor, checks on picking operations at the Dole Plantation in Oahu, Hawaii.

In 2013, Kofi Debrah, a Dole field supervisor, checks on picking operations at the Dole Plantation in Oahu, Hawaii.

Tim Rue/Corbis via Getty Images

The cousin of Sanford Dole (the president of the provisional government following the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii), James developed pineapple plantations on Oahu and Maui, and bought the island of Lanai, covering most of it with pineapples.

To the world, Dole made Hawaii synonymous with pineapples, though the fruit is not native to Hawaii. It’s why the makers of pineapple pizzas name them “Hawaiian” — a name that makes actual Hawaiians cringe.

The company held offices in San Francisco, where the pineapples were shipped to and sent to other markets in the United States. The industry boomed: In 1900, Hawaii shipped 1,200 cases; by 1909, James Dole proclaimed in the San Francisco Chronicle a year later, it increased to 510,000 cases.

In the 1960s, another Hawaii company, Castle & Cooke, acquired the Hawaiian Pineapple Company and renamed it to Dole Food Company. Today, Castle & Cooke is owned by billionaire David Murdock and the majority of Lanai was sold to ex-Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

It was in 1976 that Dole Packaged Foods, a division of Dole Food Company, became a sponsor for Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland Park, serving pineapple spears and juice. And in 1983, Dole also became a sponsor at Walt Disney World Resort.

A Dole Plantation employee prepares Dole Whip soft serves in a cup for a customer.  Visitors to the popular pineapple attraction usually order the refreshing dessert, which is available in a cone or topped off with fresh Dole pineapple.

A Dole Plantation employee prepares Dole Whip soft serves in a cup for a customer. Visitors to the popular pineapple attraction usually order the refreshing dessert, which is available in a cone or topped off with fresh Dole pineapple.

Diane SW Lee

“The Dole Whip treat was created in San Francisco,” William Goldfield, director of corporate communications of Dole Food Company, told SFGATE. “It was developed internally through Dole Kitchens and formed in partnership with Kent Precision Foods.”

A dairy-free, fruit-based dessert, Dole Whip, then known as Dole Pineapple Whip, launched into the market in 1983, Goldfield said. It first debuted at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom park in 1984, then Disneyland Park in 1986.

“Dole kitchens were focused on creating a brilliant fruit flavor and colorful true-to-fruit soft serve product,” Goldfield said. “It was made primarily for Disney but was just introduced a short time before being added to the parks.”

Dole Whip is a popular treat for guests on their way to Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room.

Dole Whip is a popular treat for guests on their way to Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.

Yelp

The soft serve dessert was licensed to third party food-service establishments back then as it still is today, but the pineapple treat became an enormous hit with Disney fans, and its popularity is still going strong. At the Disney theme parks, Dole Whip has become one of the most ubiquitous park foods — in the same class as smoked turkey legs and my childhood go-to, the Mickey-shaped ice cream.

“I’m in the parks all the time, and it’s still a tremendously popular treat,” Smothers said. “Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room was this tropical show and here was this tropical treat that you could take into the show and watch it, you know, you’re welcome to take your Dole Whip into the attraction. I think that made it really special.”

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