Chiquita Shareholders Reject Merger With Irish Company Fyffes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer/MCT) -

Shareholders of Charlotte, N.C.-based Chiquita Brands International spurned the company’s board of directors Friday, voting down a planned merger with Irish produce company Fyffes.

That leaves Chiquita only days to decide whether to accept an all-cash bid by two Brazilian firms to buy Chiquita, which the board has rejected three times.

At a brief shareholders’ meeting in Charlotte, Chiquita said it would continue negotiating with the Brazilian firms. The company’s board of directors immediately went into a meeting.

A Brazilian newspaper, Sao Paulo-based O Estadao, reported Friday that Chiquita would accept Brazilian orange-juice maker Cutrale and banking conglomerate Safra’s $14.50-per-share offer to buy the company, with a deal to be announced in the coming hours. O Estadao cited unnamed sources.

An acquisition by Cutrale and Safra would open the door to greater uncertainty for Chiquita. Executives at the privately held companies haven’t said what they would do with Chiquita’s Charlotte headquarters and the 320 workers there. Fyffes had said most of Chiquita’s corporate jobs would remain in Charlotte.

Representatives of Cutrale and Safra declined to comment after the vote, beyond pointing to the board’s statement that it would negotiate further with them.

“Given today’s results, we have determined to terminate the agreement with Fyffes and to engage with Cutrale/Safra regarding its revised offer,” said Chiquita CEO Ed Lonergan, in a statement. “While we are convinced (Fyffes) would have been a strong merger partner, we will now go forward as competitors.”

Chiquita’s stock closed Friday up 2.9 percent at $14.16 a share, approaching the $14.50 offered by Cutrale and Safra.