Productos Columbia, producer of Banquete brand tomato sauce, was purchased outright by Heinz of the US during the second week of March. At the time of acquisition, the name of the company changed to Alimentos Heinz de Costa Rica. The purchase underscores Heinz's plans to expand its presence in Central America and the Caribbean.

The Banquete brand will remain and the company's product line will continue to be distributed by Distribuidora Banquete, which was also acquired by Heinz. Over the past 52 years the Banquete brand of tomato sauce has carved out a strong market share in Costa Rica, achieving sales in the range of US$12m in 2000.

Heinz acquired Productos Columbia at a time when the latter was only beginning to expand its presence in the Caribbean and other Central American nations. Heinz is likely to press ahead with the international expansion. The ownership transition is expected to take approximately six months and is simplified by the fact that no immediate personnel changes are expected. Technological upgrades are expected which will increase efficiency and production capacity.

By Steve Lewis, correspondent