(Sept. 14) CINCINNATI — Chiquita Brands International Inc. has a new banana packaging technology at its disposal.

Thanks to a deal with Landec Corp., Menlo Park, Calif., Chiquita will soon begin using Landec’s patented Intelimer packaging technology throughout its banana program.

Intelimer is a breathable membrane that is put onto the banana packaging to allow better ripening control and shelf-life extension during storage and shipping.

Under the terms of the deal, Landec subsidiary Apio Inc., Guadelupe, Calif., will supply Chiquita with the Intelimer technology for use on banana packaging in some applications on an exclusive basis. Other applications will be allowed on a non-exclusive basis.

Mike Mitchell, Chiquita spokesman, said the company could not elaborate on what those applications might be at this time.

In another part of the deal, Chiquita will buy up to 500,000 shares of Landec common stock.

The actual number of shares and the value of those shares will be determined at a later date. Those shares represent only a small portion of Landec’s 23.1 million outstanding shares of stock.

Gary Steele, chairman and chief executive officer of Landec, said in a news release that those shares represent Chiquita’s commitment to investing in this joint technology development effort.

Mitchell said the company expects to begin rolling out banana shipments with the technology in place by early 2005. The company has not yet announced what markets it will target.

Fernando Aguirre, Chiquita’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a news release that his company has been evaluating the Intelimer technology for the past two years.

“Based on the results, we believe this product will effectively extend the shelf life of bananas, which offers a significant benefit to our customers and consumers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Apio officially ended its own banana program at the end of the fiscal year in 2003. Greg Skinner, vice president of finance and chief financial officer for Landec, said the banana program was never that big to begin with. Nor was it intended to be.

Instead, Skinner said, Apio’s banana program was used as a showcase to get other companies interested in the Intelimer technology. That strategy appears to have paid off.

“Without that, we wouldn’t have gotten this deal with Chiquita,” Skinner said. “(Apio’s banana program) was only for keeping the technology out there, to try and advance it while we tried to get one of the big guys to jump on board.”