CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Shareholders of Charlotte, North Carolina-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 merger is not expected to affect Chiquita’s plan to move its banana-shipping operations to the Port of New Orleans, Louisiana officials have said.
Chiquita announced the New Orleans move in May. An LSU study shows Chiquita would create 240 to 350 new direct and support jobs.
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.
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.”
The banana company is a relative newcomer in Charlotte. Chiquita arrived less than three years ago, a high-profile firm with an iconic brand recruited aggressively by local officials. Chiquita was lured to Charlotte from Cincinnati in 2011 with almost $23 million worth of state and local incentives. The company also chose Charlotte for its busier airport with more flights to reach Chiquita’s far-flung operations.
Officials were quiet Friday. Chamber spokeswoman Natalie Dick said the group would not comment on Chiquita and declined to make anyone available for interviews. State and local officials could not immediately be reached.
Friday’s vote caps seven months of corporate maneuvering. Chiquita and Fyffes agreed to combine in an all-stock deal in March. The companies planned to create the largest banana company in the world.
In August, Cutrale and Safra first made an unsolicited offer to buy Chiquita.
Since its arrival in Charlotte, Chiquita struggled. Factors including unpredictable weather, a glut of bananas on the world market and stagnant salad sales dragged down results. The company lost $405 million in 2012 and $16 million in 2013.