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California

Calavo to Buy Maui Fresh in Stock Deal

September 05, 2003|Jerry Hirsch | Times Staff Writer

Mango guacamole?

That's one possible culinary result from the acquisition of exotic fruit packager Maui Fresh International Inc. by Calavo Growers Inc., the nation's largest avocado-marketing company.

Calavo said Thursday that it would purchase Anaheim-based Maui Fresh for $4.5 million in stock. It is Santa Ana-based Calavo's first acquisition since shifting from a growers' cooperative to a public company last year.

After the announcement, Calavo closed down 3 cents at $7.02 on Nasdaq. The stock has gained 14% this year.

Though it is a small transaction, Calavo Chief Executive Lee Cole sees it as the first step in becoming a diversified produce distributor.

Maui Fresh posted sales of about $20 million last year, selling tropical and exotic fruits, chiles and hothouse-grown produce, as well as more conventional fruits and vegetables. Calavo has annual sales of about $250 million.

Executives from both companies said they should be able to take advantage of their knowledge of the Latino market by pairing chiles and avocados.

Moreover, Maui Fresh would be able to tap into Calavo's harvesting and packing know-how to improve quality and productivity, said Arthur Bruno, president and co-founder of Maui Fresh.

Bruno would become chief financial officer of the merged company, succeeding Wolfgang Hombrecher, who Calavo said resigned to pursue other business opportunities.

Calavo expects to close the transaction in early November and would operate Maui Fresh as a subsidiary.

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