Fyffes becomes top banana after merger with rival
What began in 1888 with a shipment of bananas from the Canary Islands to London, yesterday culminated in a new Irish company that will distribute 16 billion pieces of the fruit around the world every year.
Dublin-based fruit firm Fyffes is merging with US company Chiquita to create a business that will be the world's biggest distributor of bananas, and have annual sales of $4.6bn (€3.3bn).
The new company – ChiquitaFyffes – will be the biggest banana distributor in the world and control 14pc of the world's $7bn (€5bn) market for the popular fruit. It will be the single biggest distributor in Europe and the second biggest in the US.
ChiquitaFyffes' shares will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, making it worth about $1.1bn (€792m), but the company will be headquartered in Ireland.
Having begun life in London as Queen Victoria reigned, EW Fyffe & Son received its first shipment of bananas in the same year that the Kodak camera was patented and Jack the Ripper terrorised the city.
The company created the well-known 'Fyffes' logo in 1929, making it the world's first fruit brand.
The Irish connection dates to 1902, when Charles McCann established a greengrocers on Clanbrassil Street in Dundalk, becoming the first agent for Fyffes in Ireland. The McCann family have led Fyffes since the 1950s.
Yesterday, Charles McCann's grandson, David McCann, welcomed the merger. Mr McCann, a former lawyer, is executive chairman of Fyffes and has worked with the company since 1986.
He said the deal to combine the two companies would be "transformative" and offer "exciting opportunities" for the new business.
The McCann family owns about 12.5pc of Fyffes, which is itself listed on the stock exchange. Chiquita's shares are traded in New York.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr McCann and Chiquita chief executive Ed Lonergan said they'd first hatched their plan over a drink at a fruit industry convention in New Orleans last October.
"We found ourselves chatting and cooked up a deal that made sense to both of us," said Mr McCann.
Mr Lonergan will be executive chairman of the newly formed ChiquitaFyffes, while Mr McCann will be its chief executive.
Chiquita was founded in 1871, when Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker bought 160 bunches of bananas in Jamaica and sailed them to New Jersey.
Mr McCann admitted that he's still staggered by the amount of bananas that the new company will be shipping – 160 million boxes a year, with each box containing 100 bananas.
It will eclipse the amount distributed by the next biggest competitor – Del Monte – which handles about 117 million boxes a year. Fruit company Dole distributes about 110 million boxes.
The new company, which will have 32,000 employees and operate in 70 countries, will also be the biggest importer of melons in the US.
The tie-up between Fyffes and Chiquita isn't expected to be completed until the end of the year, but neither company is expecting any issues to be raised by regulators.