• Net loss of US$11m, down from a profit of $24m last year
  • Chiquita failed to make an operating profit 
  • Net sales drop 3% to $520m

US produce group Chiquita Brands International has slipped to a net loss in the first quarter of the year as lower banana prices in key markets hit sales.

For the three months to the end of March, the company recorded a net loss of US$11m, down from a profit of $24m in the corresponding period last year, it reported today (9 May).

The fresh produce multinational attributed the loss to lower banana sales, charges related to European shipping reconfigurations and the company's headquarters relocation.

Chiquita's profitability at the level of operating profit also worsened. In last year's first quarter, it posted an operating income of $42m. In the first three months of 2012, it merely broke even at an operating profit level.

Sales amounted to $793m, a 3.8% drop on the prior-year period. Net sales in the firm's bananas division dropped 3% to $520m on lower dollar-equivalent pricing in Europe and lower pricing in North America. Comparable operating income from the unit slid 55.3% to $25m on lower pricing and higher total delivered fruit cost.

Sales from the group's salads and healthy snacks business remained consistent year-on-year at $238m, but comparable operating income declined to $2m versus $6m in 2011.

The company said it expects 2012 will continue to be a "challenging" year but insisted it was "seeking long-term sales and profitability growth" by "leveraging scale within its core businesses", it said.

Click here to view the full earnings release.