(June 17, UPDATED, 11:15 a.m.) Chiquita issued a clarification June 17 after a statement made a day earlier by chairman and chief executive officer Fernando Aguirre caused the company’s stock to fall more than 25%.

After Aguirre said Chiquita Brands International Inc. expected a “significant loss” during the third quarter, the Cincinnati-based company’s shares fell more than $6 and closed at $16.65 June 16 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Aguirre made the comments in the company’s interim price and volume report, which said that banana prices in Europe have started to moderate while costs continue to increase. Chiquita estimates its full-year cost increases could reach up to $265 million.

In a clarification issued June 17, Chiquita reiterated that the third quarter is “traditionally a weak quarter for the company and the banana industry” and stressed that the company expects to deliver year-over-year improvements in the second quarter and the full year.

Aguirre said the loss anticipated in the third quarter is expected to be in line with the loss incurred during the third quarter last year.

The company reported a net loss of $28 million in the third quarter of 2007, down from a net loss of $96 million in the third quarter of 2006.

Chiquita’s stock rebounded slightly June 17 and was at $17.50 during morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Competitor Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. also was affected by Chiquita’s warning of higher costs in the banana trade. Shares of the Coral Gables, Fla.-based company fell more than $6 before recovering slightly to close at $26.99 on June 16. Its shares rebounded somewhat and were at $28.38 during morning trading June 17.

Banana prices

Chiquita said in its report that prices increased significantly for bananas in April and May, but volume was relatively flat in North America and down dramatically in Europe.

Chiquita said adverse weather in Central America and Ecuador limited supplies industrywide. The company said prices increased 36% in North America because of constrained supply, higher fuel surcharges, higher contract prices and a price surcharge implemented because of increased sourcing costs.

Volume rose just 1% compared to the year-ago period in North America, which accounted for 45% of the company’s banana volume.

In Europe, prices increased 8% on a local currency basis, or 26% based on a U.S. dollar basis. The company said volume decreased 11% in the market, which accounted for 35% of its banana sales. In addition to limited supplies, Chiquita attributed low volume to low-price contracts that it canceled and the company’s decision to focus on premium product rather than market share.

In Asia and the Middle East, which accounted for 15% of the company’s banana volume, volume increased 25% despite the fact that prices were 17% higher on a U.S. dollar basis.

Salads up

Meanwhile, Chiquita said that in its value-added salad business net revenue per case and volume both increased 1% during the period compared to a year ago.

The company attributed sluggish growth with decreased promotional activity and the integration of Verdelli Farms into the Fresh Express distribution network. Chiquita subsidiary Fresh Express LLC, Salinas, Calif., acquired Verdelli Farms Inc., Harrisburg, Pa., in October 2007.

Chiquita said it expected volume constraints to be resolved “in the next several months.”

In other news, Aguirre will present at the Wachovia Nantucket Equity Conference June 24 at Nantucket, Mass. The presentation, scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. eastern time, will be available at www.chiquita.com.

Chiquita clarifies statement on stock