Chiquita loses $18M in Q3, turns focus to completing buyout

Charlotte-based Chiquita Brands International said Thursday that it lost $18 million in the third quarter, as the company struggled with high banana prices and falling sales of salads and healthy snacks.

Chief executive Ed Lonergan said the company’s focus now is closing a buyout by two Brazilian firms that will take Chiquita private. The $680 million deal could close by the end of the year, Lonergan said. Cutrale, an orange juice maker, and the Safra Group, a banking conglomerate, haven’t said where Chiquita will be headquartered or whether they will keep the company’s 320 jobs uptown in the NASCAR Plaza office tower.

Chiquita spent most of the past three months trying to fend off the buyout offer from Cutrale and Safra, and instead complete its planned merger with Irish fruit company Fyffes. Shareholders ultimately voted down the Fyffes deal in favor of the all-cash bid from the Brazilians, which Chiquita accepted last month.

“I am particularly proud of our results in light of the significant work and potential distractions that existed for our employees in the third quarter,” Lonergan said in a statement.

Revenue rose 2 percent to $739 million. But that didn’t translate to higher profits: Chiquita’s $18 million third-quarter loss was identical to the amount the company lost in the third quarter last year.

Although banana sales, which make up about two thirds of the company’s revenue, rose 4 percent, Chiquita was forced to pay more for its banana supply in the spot market. The company blamed continued bad weather in banana-growing regions.

Sales of salads and healthy snacks, Chiquita’s other main business line, fell 2 percent. The company said lower demand from food-service customers dragged down results.

Chiquita was lured to Charlotte in 2011 with the promise of about $22 million worth of state and local incentives. One condition was that Chiquita maintain its global headquarters in Charlotte for 10 years. Government officials haven’t said whether they plan to seek repayment of any of the incentives that have been paid out so far.