Chiquita opens talks with Brazilian firms, signs confidentiality agreement

Charlotte-based Chiquita Brands International and two Brazilian firms seeking to buy the banana company said Wednesday that after weeks of squabbling, they’re sitting down to talk.

Chiquita has signed a confidentiality agreement with orange juice maker Cutrale and banking conglomerate Safra. That means Cutrale and Safra now have access to Chiquita’s books, other confidential data and the company’s management team.

Cutrale and Safra have been trying to break up Chiquita’s planned merger with Irish fruit company Fyffes. Instead, they want to buy Chiquita for $13 a share, or $611 million. After Chiquita’s board rejected their offer in August, Cutrale and Safra took their case directly to shareholders. They won enough support to force Chiquita to postpone its shareholder vote on the Fyffes deal until Oct. 3.

In a joint statement, the Cutrale-Safra group said it would use its “best efforts to complete its due diligence and present its definitive offer as expeditiously as possible” but didn’t give a timetable.

Chiquita employs more than 300 people uptown at its NASCAR Plaza headquarters. The company was lured to Charlotte in 2012 with almost $23 million worth of incentives. Chiquita has said most of those jobs would stay under its merger plan with Fyffes, though the headquarters would shift to Dublin.

Cutrale and Safra haven’t said what they would do with the headquarters if they acquire Chiquita.

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