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VENTURA COUNTY ROUNDUP / BARBARA MURPHY

Dole Enjoying Boon in Bananas Sent to China

November 12, 1996|BARBARA MURPHY

Dole Food Co. is among a bunch of banana producers suddenly finding a lucrative new market-- China.

Dole and others are shipping 1 million boxes of bananas a week to China, a market virtually untapped until recently.

In the past month, Dole, with headquarters in Westlake Village, has begun sending 200,000 12-kilogram boxes of bananas to China weekly. That represents 10% of its current shipments, said Timothy Ramey, an analyst at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell Inc.

"It's a very significant amount of product, no matter who's shipping it," Ramey said.

For Dole, the world's largest banana producer, the sudden access to once-restricted Chinese markets is a surprising boon, though the company cautioned that the shipments to China may not last.

"It could close as quickly as it opened," spokesman Tom Pernice said.

Dole and U.S. trade officials couldn't explain why China opened its market to bananas. China's trade policies, particularly on fruit and produce, are hard to predict, they said.

"It's still a very tightly restricted market," said Brian Grunenfelder, an agricultural economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He said that other than bananas, China hasn't shown any sudden interest in U.S.-produced fruit.

Bananas account for about half of Dole's earnings, and $1.3 billion, or 36%, of its sales. Dole said most of the bananas going to China are grown in Ecuador and the Philippines.

The company said China is accepting only its bananas and not its other products.

In other company news, Dole announced the promotion of David A. Cohen to senior vice president for acquisitions and investments. Cohen joined Dole's executive management staff in 1991 as director of mergers and acquisitions.

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