Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chiquita touts ‘green’ efforts at annual meeting

Chiquita Brands International Inc. touted its corporate responsibility initiatives at the company’s annual meeting of shareholders, including the construction of 1,850 new housing units for banana workers in Honduras and Guatemala and a water-recycling initiative that saved 576,000 gallons in Latin America.

“We are doing great work that no other player in the industry is doing in either bananas or salads,” said Fernando Aguirre, CEO of the Cincinnati-based produce company.

Shareholders had no questions and the agenda was light for Chiquita’s annual meeting, which was held at the company’s Fifth Street headquarters downtown. Shareholders elected the company-nominated slate of nine directors and ratified PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC as its independent auditor, affirming a selection made by Chiquita after a competitive process last May.

Aguirre said Chiquita’s financial objectives are to secure profitable growth from the sale of bananas and other fresh fruits and vegetables, with a mix of new products and expanded distribution channels. He said the company would use free cash flow to pay down debt and will improve profit margins in its Fresh Express salad business by 3 to 4 percentage points.

“When we bought Fresh Express in 2005 we bought a company that was delivering about a 6 percent margin and it is our intention to get back to that level,” he said.

Aguirre described Chiquita’s corporate responsibility initiatives “an area of increasing importance” to consumers. He said the company has worked with the Rain Forest Alliance on reforestation and the using ground cover in ways that reduce pesticide use. At Chiquita’s Latin American packing stations, the company has reduced water usage by 96 percent.

“If we implemented this water recycling system in all our Chiquita-owned packing stations, we would save the equivalent of 2,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools or enough water for 15,400 families per year,” Aguirre said. “That is a huge improvement that I haven’t heard any other company claim.”

Chiquita (NYSE: CQB) is a marketer and distributor of fresh and packaged produce in Europe and North America.

Business Courier

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