The Fresh Express packaged salad line from Chiquita Brands International Inc. is a key element in the “turnaround strategy” for the banana giant as it acquires and merges operations with Fyffes PLC of Dublin.

“Fresh Express will be a very important component to the overall success of the combined company,” said Ed Lloyd, director of communications for Chiquita, Charlotte, N.C. “We see this business as a critical growth engine for the combined company going forward for the top line and bottom line.”

Chiquita reported a net loss of $16 million in 2013, down from a $405 million loss in 2012. The company’s operating income was $50 million for 2013, up from a $254 million loss in 2012.

Chiquita is naming Brian Kocher as chief operating officer of salads and healthy snacks to lead the Fresh Express operations, Loyd said.

Kocher has been on the Chiquita executive staff since 2005 when he was hired as president of North American operations. Most recently he was senior vice president and chief financial officer for Chiquita’s operations worldwide.

Loyd said Chiquita invested heavily in the Fresh Express operation in the past year, citing the opening of a new packing facility in the Chicago suburb of Streamwood, Ill. That plant was fully operational by the end of 2013 and combined the operations of three others, which have been closed, Loyd said.

“We have made significant investments in our manufacturing capabilities, talent, innovation pipeline, ag ops, and quality and food safety systems,” Loyd said. “We are on a glide path to driving our target EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) margins of 7% to 8%, and this is a key element to our turnaround strategy.”

Chiquita officials also expect the merger with Dublin-based Fyffes to boost its melon and pineapple programs.

“What is attractive about melons and pineapples with this transaction is the scale we can achieve that makes sense through the efficiencies in combining our global supply chain that neither company could achieve on its own,” Loyd said.

After the merger is complete, which is expected by the end of this year, the new company will be named ChiquitaFyffes.