(Oct. 7) CORAL GABLES, Fla. — In moving produce to European retailers, there’s no strategy quite like a direct approach.

That, in essence, is the thinking behind the latest move by Coral Gables-based Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc., which is cutting loose its longtime importer in northern Europe.

Del Monte Fresh Produce GmbH, Hamburg, Germany, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc., Del Monte’s international arm, has signed an agreement to sell its 80% interest in Internationale Fruchtimport Gesellschaft Weichert & Co. KG to Dublin, Ireland-based Fyffes PLC, one of Europe’s major fresh produce distributors.

31-YEAR RELATIONSHIP
The deal will end a 31-year relationship between Hamburg-based Internationale Fruchtimport Gesellschaft Weichert & Co. KG and Fresh Del Monte Dec. 31. Del Monte already had stopped supplying bananas to the Hamburg company earlier this year.

“The strategy here is to directly market our products in northern Europe,” said John Inserra, Del Monte Fresh’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. “In all of northern Europe, our strategy is to completely market all our products ourselves. This move allows us to market our total product line.”

The transaction is subject to regulatory approval in three European countries.

The sale, announced Oct. 1, serves several key strategic purposes for Fresh Del Monte, which has sought to expand its business interests in Europe and has established marketing operations in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, Inserra said.

“This adds to our marketing ability; it doesn’t take away from it,” Inserra said.

The agreement also enables the firm to leverage its operating platform in Germany, capitalizing on its growing market position and furthering its pursuit of global expansion. It also allows Fresh Del Monte to obtain European banana licenses.

GATEWAY

But, Inserra said, bananas are only a part of the company’s game plan.

“Bananas are the gateway to selling other fresh produce,” he said. “The other products are the focus of where our real potential is. You need bananas to get you going, because it gets you critical mass and gives you the ability sell your other produce items.”

Inserra declined to comment on the company’s current sales volume in the European Union, but he said that the company anticipates growth in that marketplace.

“Europe is a very good market for fresh produce,” he said. “They are health-conscious and consume quite a bit of fresh fruit and vegetables. We see it as a great potential for Del Monte to increase its capabilities in that region.”

FYFFES

Fyffes, meanwhile, also stands to gain market share through the transaction, said Mary Finan, a spokesman for the Dublin-based company.

“It gives the company a good, strong presence in the German market,” Finan said. “(Fyffes) had a 15% share of the banana market in the EU, and this brings their market share up to 17%.”

The acquisition fit Fyffes long-term growth plans in Europe, Finan added.

“Fyffes has had an ongoing acquisition strategy in Europe over the last number of years,” she said. “So, this is really a continuation of that strategy.”

Finan added that Fyffes would continue to look for other opportunities.

“I think you can expect that, if the right opportunities arise, there will certainly be other acquisitions,” she said.

She added that, currently, she was not aware of any other plans for further acquisitions.