(Oct. 31) Fresh Del Monte is “more than happy” to serve former Chiquita customers in the fresh-cut fruit bowl business, said Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh, chairman and chief executive officer of Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc.

“This will give us added leverage,” Abu-Ghazaleh said in an Oct. 30 conference call, a day after Cincinnati-based rival Chiquita Brands International Inc. announced plans to discontinue its fresh-cut fruit bowl line. “We have proven we’re the only fresh-cut fruit company in the U.S. that can deliver on a nationwide business.”

Chiquita spokesman Mike Mitchell said the company, which introduced fruit bowls in 2003, plans to focus its fresh-cut efforts on value-added salads and healthy snacks.

Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Fresh Del Monte, said the Coral Gables, Fla.-based company processes and distributes fresh-cut fruit bowls from nine U.S. facilities. He said the company has offered the bowls since 2000.

“Fresh-cut fruit is a growing, exciting segment,” Christou said. “We’re definitely committed to that category. We see a lot of opportunities and believe it will continue to grow.”

Del Monte reported its third-quarter results during the Oct. 30 conference call. The company’s stock jumped to a 52-week high of $38.62 during midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange after the company announced it had earned net income of $29.9 million in the third quarter, compared to a net loss of $82.9 million in the same period a year ago.

Del Monte’s stock had slumped as low as $14.40 in the past 52 weeks.

“Fresh Del Monte performed well in a quarter that is traditionally the most difficult of the year for our company,” Abu-Ghazaleh said. “In fact, the third quarter of 2007 was one of the best third quarters in Fresh Del Monte history.”

Net sales were 4% higher than in the year ago period at $757.1 million.

Abu-Ghazaleh said the successful quarter was due, in part, to stronger banana prices resulting from planned volume reductions and higher prices.