(Dec. 18 ) CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc., fresh from a move to expand its European distribution network with the purchase of a Polish distributor, says that it now plans to buy Country Best Produce from bankrupt Agway Inc.

Fresh Del Monte said that it will pay $12.2 million in cash for Country Best, to help strengthen its market position in potatoes and onions and give itself an entry into a burgeoning sweet corn category.

The deal is expected to close before the end of December, the company said. The purchase, subject to approval of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Northern District of New York, includes processing and packaging operations in Plant City; Winder, Ga.; and Syracuse, N.Y., as well as regional distribution facilities in Tampa and Atlanta.

Fresh Del Monte also will acquire a potato-buying operation in Idaho.

The relative rock-bottom price for the Country Best assets fit perfectly with Del Monte’s strategy to find a way to expand its presence in the vegetable category in the eastern U.S., said John Loughridge, the company’s vice president of marketing.
He said he did not know if Fresh Del Monte was assuming any debt.

Country Best processes and packages potatoes, onions, sweet corn and other commodities. The company reported sales of about $100 million in fiscal 2003.