Dole Food Company, Inc. (DOLE), Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc (FDP) & Chiquita Brands International Inc (CQB): Why Fruits and Vegetables Should Not Be Part of a Balanced Portfolio

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Dole Food Company, Inc. (NYSE:DOLE)Shares of Dole Food Company, Inc. (NYSE:DOLE), the world’s largest producer and seller of fruit and vegetables, surged 22% on June 11, after CEO David Murdock made an offer to take the company private for $12 per share. What does this sudden move mean for the rest of the fruit and vegetables industry, which includes Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc (NYSE:FDP) and Chiquita Brands International Inc (NYSE:CQB)?

Is being taken private necessarily a bad thing?

As tech investors have seen with Michael Dell’s efforts to take personal computer giant Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL) private again, being taken private after several years on the public market is not a positive sign. It usually indicates that a company needs to restructure its operations for longer-term growth away from the myopic gaze of investors more concerned with quarterly reports.

For Dole Food Company, Inc. (NYSE:DOLE), that may be the case as well. Dole’s investors recently expressed dismay over the company’s indefinite suspension of its share buyback plan to buy three custom built refrigerated container ships for $165 million. Analysts are also becoming increasingly bearish on the company’s growth prospects, with Thomson Reuters’ StarMine valuing the intrinsic value (based on ten-year growth models) of the company at $9.46 per share – 21% lower than Murdock’s offer. To top top that off, Dole has reported losses for three consecutive quarters.

Prior to Murdock’s offer, shares of Dole Food Company, Inc. (NYSE:DOLE) had plunged 33% from its all-time high of $15.16 in September. That surge in September was attributed to the sale of Dole’s packaged foods and Asia fresh produce business to Japanese conglomerate Itochu for $1.7 billion. That sale reduced Dole’s size by a third, leaving the company with only its fruit and vegetables operations in North America, and its fruit business in Latin America, Europe and Africa.

Lastly, Dole and Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc (NYSE:FDP) were both fined in 2008 by the EU for price collusion of banana exports. Fresh Del Monte recently won a reduction of its fine to 8.82 million euros ($11.4 million), while Dole Food Company, Inc. (NYSE:DOLE) lost an appeal to reduce its 45.6 million euro ($60.7 million) fine. That big fine is currently weighing down Dole’s quarterly earnings.

Faced with these daunting headwinds, it seems like an ideal time for 90-year old Murdock, who took over Dole Food Company from the nearly bankrupt Hawaiian firm Castle & Cooke in 1985, to take the company private. This wouldn’t be the first time Murdock has taken the company private – he initially acquired Dole privately in 2003 and took it public in 2009.

Murdock, who already owns 40% of Dole Food Company, Inc. (NYSE:DOLE)’s outstanding shares, will have to pay $645 million for the rest of the company – no big deal for a man with a net worth of $2.4 billion who plans to live until the age of 125.

Let’s go bananas!

In my opinion, Murdock is smart to take Dole private before the industry hits more challenging headwinds over the next few years.

Last quarter, Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc (NYSE:FDP) reported a 34% year-on-year plunge in diluted earnings as revenue rose 2.3%. Its margins contracted across the board, with net margin dropping the most, from 6.7% to 4.5%. Higher sales of fresh produce in North America and the Middle East were offset by lower banana prices in Europe and softer demand for its fruit and vegetables across the region.

Sales of bananas rose 2% from the prior year quarter, and currently comprise 44% of Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc (NYSE:FDP)’s top line. However, gross profit from bananas declined 21%, due to price volatility and a 2% increase in unit costs. Fresh Del Monte offset some of these losses with an 8% increase in melon sales and 7% gain in fresh-cut fruit sales.

Chiquita Brands International Inc (NYSE:CQB), which generates 65% of its revenue from bananas, was also hit by this volatility. Last quarter, Chiquita’s earnings and revenue declined 25% and 2.5%, respectively. The company cited the same headwinds as Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc (NYSE:FDP), noting that reduced sales volumes in Europe hurt its top and bottom-line growth. Sales of bananas declined 3% year-on-year, while the segment’s profit declined 7.4%.

Dole Food Company, Inc. (NYSE:DOLE), by comparison, is not as exposed to banana prices as either of these two competitors. Dole groups bananas together with its diversified fresh fruit segment, which reported a 4% increase in sales to $764 million last quarter, accounting for 72.5% of its top line. Adjusted EBITDA from the segment rose 26%, a stark contrast to Fresh Del Monte and Chiquita Brands International Inc (NYSE:CQB)’s losses. Moreover, Dole actually reported improved pricing and higher sales volumes in Europe, which were offset by lower sales of Chilean deciduous fruits and lower banana prices in North America. Looking forward, the company expects lower earnings of bananas and berries to weigh down on its bottom-line growth for the rest of the year.

In other words, it appears that Dole Food Company, Inc. (NYSE:DOLE)’s more diversified basket of fruit and vegetables has insulated it from some of the challenges facing its competitors.

Diversification is a double-edged sword

However, just as investors realize that diversified mutual funds sometimes woefully underperform individual stocks, Dole’s long-term growth has been utterly dismal compared to Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc (NYSE:FDP) and Chiquita Brands International Inc (NYSE:CQB).

Forward P/E

Price to Sales

Return on Equity

Debt to Equity

Profit Margin

Qty. Earnings Growth (y-o-y)

Qty. Revenue Growth (y-o-y)

Dole Food








Fresh Del Monte








Chiquita Brands









Chiquita Brands

Chiquita Brands

Fresh Del Monte

Fresh Del Monte

Fresh Del Monte

Fresh Del Monte

Source: Yahoo Finance, 6/12/2013

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