Although Chiquita Brands International, Charlotte., N.C., decided to jettison its deciduous fruit business last year to focus on its core commodities of bananas, pineapple and packaged salads, a new, separate company composed of former Chiquita veterans has acquired the exclusive license to market Chiquita deciduous fruit and citrus in North America, Asia and Latin America.
Former senior manager of business development with Chiquita, David Espinoza Sr., is now president and sourcing director for the Charlotte, N.C.-based International Fruit Co. Espinoza said the company began operations Jan. 1, taking on many growers that Chiquita has used for the past 18 years. The new company is expected to handle about 1 million cartons of fruit this year, with fruit sourced primarily from Chile, Mexico and California, he said.
The first U.S. arrivals from Chile are expected by the end of February with red seedless grapes, thompsons and other grape varieties on the way. Espinoza said U.S. retailers are anxious for another source in what has been a short supply season from Chile. The company is also sending fruit to Asia, with hopes of expanding sales to China and Korea.
From Chilean growers, Espinoza said the company will market a wide line of deciduous fruits, including grapes, peaches, nectarines, plums, plumcots, apricots, apples, asian pears, pears, quinces and kiwifruit. The company will also handle a citrus line from various growing areas, including clementines, mandarins, navels and lemons.
The company plans to source from growers in Chile, Peru, Brazil, Mexico and California. Growers will include a mix of the same group Chiquita used and some new suppliers, he said.
“We expect to grow the volume to 5 million packages in the next five years,” Espinoza said.
This year, Espinoza said Mexican and California will be the top sources of fruit, but Chile and Peru are expected to increase their importance to the company next year with the benefit of a full Southern Hemisphere season.
Chiquita retains some deciduous sales in Europe, primarily in Italy and Spain, but Espinoza said International Fruit C0. will source fruit for Chiquita Spain and Chiquita Italy.
Espinoza said customers shouldn’t expect changes in quality or attention to food safety.
“As Chiquita decided to exit the deciduous business because it is not part of the core businesses, we took the option to license the business with Chiquita,” he said. “It is the same team moving forward with International Fruit Co. as a licensed company for Chiquita business.”
International Fruit Co. will primarily ship fruit with the Chiquita label, but also will have a generic label.
Espinoza said the company, which he said is housed in the same building as the Chiquita headquarters, is an entirely independent separate company but has a good working relationship with Chiquita officials. Espinoza said there is mutual trust between Chiquita and International Fruit Co. in relation to continuing strong food safety and quality standards.
“As a new company, we are conducting business exactly with the same core values,” he said.
As an independent company, International Fruit Co. will assume responsibility for all advertising and marketing costs, but he said the company will find synergies at trade shows and other events.
A spokesman for Chiquita could not be immediately be reached for comment.
Keith Leichty, a nine-year veteran of Chiquita — most recently as the company’s Chilean sales manager — is now vice president of sales for International Fruit Co. Alex Bryant, another former Chiquita employee who worked with Espinoza, is general manager of the new company.