Chiquita Brands International apparently is exiting the deciduous business — starting with grapes when California’s season ends.
The decision, coming on the heels of the early October hire of Edward Lonergan as Chiquita’s new president and chief executive officer, is designed to raise profits, according to an e-mail from Tiffany Breaux, spokeswoman for the Charlotte, N.C.-based company.
“While the deciduous business has been a part of the company’s vision to expand its reach and impact, the transition is necessary to align efforts focusing on the core business,” according to Breaux’s statement.
Lonergan She gave no details on volume or commodities affected by the change. She said in the statement that Chiquita “has other ongoing business” in Chile, Mexico and California which are not affected by the latest move, which Breaux called “specific to the U.S. and Canadian commercial markets.”
Chiquita’s consumer website highlights only bananas, pineapples, Chiquita Bites (baby carrots, cut pineapple and sliced apples), Super Crunchy Fruit Chips (dried banana, pineapple and mango) and Fresh Express salads. Chiquita has annual revenue of more than $3 billion and employs more than 21,000 people in 70 countries, according to the company’s website.
One California grape source, speaking on condition of anonymity, speculated that Chiquita’s grape volume in the state was less than 1 million cartons, and perhaps between 500,000 to 700,000 cartons annually. The source said he had been told that Chiquita was also exiting the Chilean and Mexican grape deals. He was not aware of Chiquita being a significant player in any other California deciduous commodities.
Statistics from Philadelphia-based Sermaco Inc. shows that Chiquita imported just over 900,000 cartons of grapes and stone fruit from Chile in 2011-12, up from 881,000 cartons in 2010-11 but sharply lower than 2.61 million cartons in 2009-10. Chiquita said in its latest quarterly report that it had previously advanced $32 million to a fruit grower in Chile who declared bankruptcy in late 2011. The company said it continues to seek recovery of the funds with the bankruptcy trustee,
The latest move is the latest in a series of decisions by the multi-national to concentrate on its core banana and salad business.
In 2010, Chiquita halted melon sales and earlier this year the banana company said it was exiting the California avocado business.