Fresh Del Monte Produce net eases in '08

by Keith Nunes
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CORAL GABLES, FLA. — Fresh Del Monte Produce, Inc. experienced a decline in net income during fiscal year 2008, ended Dec. 28. For the year, the company’s net income was $157.7 million, equal to $2.49 per share on the common stock, compared with $179.8 million, or $3.07 per share, for fiscal 2007.

Sales for the year increased to $3,531 million, which compared with $3,365.5 million for the same period during fiscal 2007.

During the fourth quarter, the company’s net income declined from $34.4 million, or 57c per share, in 2007, to $22.9 million, or 36c per share. Sales for the quarter were $831 million in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared with $848.2 million during the same period during 2007.

"During an extremely difficult economic environment, our solid fourth-quarter performance is further evidence of our ongoing commitment to mitigate costs and drive productivity throughout our global organization," said Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh, chairman and chief executive officer. "Despite the difficult environment, we remained focused on the fundamentals that are critical to our success; prudently managing costs while investing in profitable core products and emerging markets that we believe will generate attractive returns for our shareholders over the long term."

Within Fresh Del Monte Produce’s Banana division during the fourth quarter net sales increased 18% compared with the same period during fiscal 2007 to $365.8 million. The increase was the result of pricing actions taken in the company’s North America, Asia-Pacific and Middle Eastern regions. The gains from pricing were offset by the impact of lower selling prices in the European region. Worldwide pricing increases for bananas increased 15% to $13.14 per box, according to the company. Unit costs increased 9% during the quarter compared with fiscal 2007.

The company’s Other Fresh Produce segment recorded a quarterly sales decline of 8% to $341.9 million. Fresh Del Monte Produce attributed the decline to lower sales in its tomato, fresh-cut and melon product categories. Overall during the quarter, pricing within the segment declined 4% and unit costs increased 3%.

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