US fresh produce firm Chiquita Brands International has reported a third-quarter profit compared to a year-ago loss and said the integration of Fresh Express was on track.

The company posted net income of US$0.3m, or 1 cent per share, for the third quarter of 2005, compared to a net loss of $20m, or 49 cents per share, in the same period a year ago. The company also reported operating income of $20m in the third quarter 2005, double the $10m reported in the year-ago period, primarily due to the impact of the Fresh Express acquisition.

Net sales were $954m, up 44% from a year earlier, primarily due to the acquisition of Fresh Express and higher banana pricing in Europe.

"We doubled our operating income and reported a modest net profit during a quarter in which the company historically has incurred financial losses," said Fernando Aguirre, chairman and chief executive officer. "During the third quarter this year, we managed quite well through various difficult issues, including mitigating the continuing impact of higher fuel, paper and ship charter costs facing the entire industry as well as successfully dealing with logistical challenges from several major hurricanes."

Aguirre also said that the company is on track with the integration of Fresh Express, which it acquired on 28 June 2005.

"Our growth in retail value-added salads during the quarter and our successful joint launch of Chiquita Apple Bites in August are evidence of the potential for strong profitable growth in our Fresh Cut segment," Aguirre added.