Copyright John Moore Getty Images

Copyright John Moore, Getty Images

Chiquita Battle Won by Brazilian Duo

Juice exporter Cutrale Group and investment bank Safra Group will buy Chiquita in a $1.3 billion deal.  

NEW YORK -- Less than three months after launching their takeover bid, Brazilian billionaires Jose Luis Cutrale and Joseph Safra snapped up banana giant Chiquita, trumping its merger plan with Ireland's Fyffes.

Juice exporter Cutrale Group and investment bank Safra Group will buy Chiquita in a $1.3 billion deal, including debt, the companies said Monday.

The acquisition propels Cutrale, which claims a one-third share of the $5 billion global orange juice market, into the top ranks in the global fruit and vegetable trade.

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Chiquita, with annual revenues of more than $3 billion, employs about 20,000 people and has operations in nearly 70 countries.

Chiquita's board of directors approved the Cutrale-Safra offer of $14.50 per share in cash, or $681 million, after shareholders Friday rejected a merger with Irish fruit rival Fyffes to create the world's largest banana trader.

It was Cutrale-Safra's third offer. The Chiquita board had rejected its $13 bid in August and its raised $14 offer in mid-October.

"We are pleased to make this long-term investment in Chiquita, one of the leading fresh produce companies in the world. It has impressive brand loyalty and recognition through its Chiquita and Fresh Express brands, providing the company with a strong competitive edge in the growing worldwide demand for high-quality fresh fruits and salads," the Cutrale-Safra group said.

Ed Lonergan, Chiquita's chief executive, said the deal "demonstrates our board's commitment to maximizing shareholder value and underscores the significant progress Chiquita has achieved over the past couple of years in our financial and operational performance."

Chiquita will become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Cutrale-Safra group and remain incorporated in New Jersey. The Brazilian groups did not provide further detail on the new combined company, notably on the size of their equity holdings.

The transaction, subject to regulatory approvals, is expected to be completed by the end of the year or early 2015.

Cutrale and Safra derailed Chiquita's plans to merge with European rival Fyffes, raising their cash offer to $14.50 a share and arguing to investors that it was worth 20 percent more than a Chiquita-Fyffes merger, and would mean an immediate payoff.

Fyffes will earn a termination fee on the merger of 3.5% of Chiquita's market value.

Chiquita and Fyffes had announced their deal in March, with the U.S. company aiming to reap the tax advantages of moving its domicile to Fyffe's home base in Ireland in a controversial inversion deal.

The administration of President Barack Obama has expressed strong opposition to such deals, in which U.S. companies claim new foreign ownership and relocate their statutory domicile to low-tax locations like Ireland. Meanwhile they leave their operating headquarters inside the United States.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014

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