The CEO of Chiquita Brands International is to step down from his position as the US produce group revamps its business to boost profits.

Fernando Aguirre, who has been at the helm for the past nine years, will make way for a new leader after the company yesterday (7 August) announced plans to pursue a “new strategic direction with a focus in driving profits in its core businesses”.

Aguirre will remain as CEO until a new chief executive is appointed, Chiquita said.

“Chiquita’s board of directors and its chief executive officer believe that this is the right time to announce its plans to transition leadership,” the company said. 

Chiquita’s lead independent director Kerrii B. Anderson added: “He has led us through thick and thin, expanding distributional channels, transforming the North American Banana business, unlocking balance sheet value, divesting non-core assets, navigating through tough inherited litigation, reducing debt and consolidating our headquarters in the business conducive and growth oriented city of Charlotte.

“Given our change in strategy, Fernando and the board decided to conduct a thorough search to identify the best candidate to serve as Chiquita’s next CEO and to jointly execute an effective and smooth leadership transition.”

In a statement, Aguirre said it has been “an honor” to lead Chiquita for around nine years, adding: “I remain one of the largest shareholders of the company and my main interest is to increase the value for all shareholders.”

The fresh produce multinational has unveiled plans to “rebalance” its structure by “strategically transforming the company to a high volume, lower cost operator” through US$60m in annual cost savings.

The restructuring is expected to reduce expenses and focus its resources on bananas and salads. The company said it will focus on increasing volumes, reducing operating and administrative costs, and “aligning investment opportunities for both business units”.

Chiquita expects to cut “some senior management positions”, in order to “bring operational functions closer in-line with strategic decisions” and “to be a more cost efficient, competitive business”, it said.