(July 1) CINCINNATI — Media reports in early July that Chiquita Brands International Inc. planned to research ways to add flavor to its bananas were misleading, a company spokesman said.

The company doesn’t intend to test bananas mixed with the flavor of other fruits, as a story by The Associated Press had suggested. Instead, Chiquita plans to research bananas to find a creamier, sweeter or different-sized product.

“That got translated by, from what I understand, editors in New York at AP into ‘Chiquita developing flavored bananas,’” said Mike Mitchell, director of corporate communications.
By midday on July 1, an Internet search revealed that at least five newspapers had published a version of that report.

The part of the story that alludes to the infusion of fruit flavors to help spur interest in the banana category is inaccurate, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said other reports related to the company’s strategy were factual.

Chiquita plans to evaluate banana varieties that might offer differentiation in the category, Mitchell said. He said the company hopes to test its new ideas with consumers in the next year.

Mitchell said a banana variety the company already markets in Japan, named Highland, is a creamier and sweeter product than what is found in the U.S., where the cavendish banana is most common. He said that in addition to researching new bananas, Chiquita would evaluate the sales potential of existing varieties in new markets.

“We’re looking at ways to innovate in the banana category,” Mitchell said. “We’re looking at ways to potentially improve profitability.”

Those plans to improve profitability come at a time when Chiquita’s reported earnings have edged below those of one year ago. In May, the company said its first-quarter net income was $20 million, down from $25 million last year.

However, net sales in the quarter were $793 million, whereas last year’s sales were $471 million.

Despite the net income decrease, Mitchell said the company had a strong first quarter.

Chiquita officially sold its Colombian production and shipping operations June 28.

The deal, which was announced June 11, transferred ownership to Invesmar Ltd. for $51.5 million. Invesmar is the holding company of grower-shipper C.I. Banacol SA, based in Colombia. Chiquita sold its Banadex production facility and port facilities in two regions of Colombia, Mitchell said.

Chiquita expects to take a loss of about $5 million on the transaction.