(Oct. 10) Nearly a decade after having given up on a short-term dalliance with the U.S. market, Ireland’s Fyffes PLC is coming back in a big way.

Dublin-based Fyffes signed an alliance agreement Sept. 30 with Uniban SA, the largest banana and plantain export company in Colombia, which will give Fyffes a 50-50 ownership in Uniban subsidiary Turbana Corp., Coral Gables, Fla.

Fyffes said it would pay Turbana about $6 million in cash when the deal is completed.

Other terms were not disclosed.

The agreement gives Fyffes — the largest banana marketer in Europe, with a 23% market share and $2.6 billion in annual sales — access to a Turbana yearly volume of about 10 million cases of bananas and plantains in the U.S. market, said Fyffes spokesman Brian Bell.

Turbana brings bananas into the U.S. through Bridgeport, Conn., and Freeport, Texas.

The deal also will allow Fyffes to market its gold pineapple, introduced two years ago in Europe, in the U.S.

The new alliance marks a return by Fyffes to the U.S. market, only on a larger scale. In 1996, the company ended a three-year presence in the U.S., during which it was selling bananas under the Fyffes brand. It also sold Honduran and Guatemalan plantations that supplied U.S. markets and closed its lone U.S. office in Florida.

Uniban launched Turbana in 1970 as its U.S. marketing arm. Medellin-based Uniban, founded by a group of Colombian banana growers in 1966, now represents 35% of Colombia’s banana exports. It also is a major plantain exporter and, in recent years, has expanded its product line to include organic and various exotic bananas. The company also sources gold pineapples in Costa Rica, Panama and Guatemala.

Uniban already supplies about 13 million cases of bananas and plantains to Fyffes for its European markets, and the two companies have a relationship that extends over three decades, said Juan David Alarcon, Turbana’s chief executive officer.

The alliance will allow Turbana to tap into Fyffes’ network of sources for various tropical products in Latin America, Alarcon said.

“This integration is a natural for Fyffes and Turbana,” he said.