US fresh produce company Chiquita Brands International has reported lower quarterly net income, as its earnings were hit by a loss on the sale of its Colombian banana operations.

The company posted net income of US$30m, or 73 cents per share, for the second quarter of 2004, compared to $57m, or $1.41 per share, in the same period of last year.

Results from the latest quarter included an after-tax loss of $4m on the sale of Chiquita’s Colombian banana production division. Results from the year-ago quarter included a gain of $21m on the sale of the company’s Armuelles, Panama division and $8m from discontinued operations reflecting a gain on the sale of the company’s vegetable canning operations.

“We achieved solid operating performance in the second quarter considering the impact of asset sales, which represented a difference of $33m in net income year-over-year,” said Fernando Aguirre, chairman and chief executive officer.

“Our farm productivity is on track to improve 6% year-on-year as we continue to focus on driving cost savings to the bottom line,” he continued. “In addition, we successfully transitioned into the expanded European Union and are now building brand equity through new marketing investments in several of the new Central and Eastern European member states. We believe these programs will yield long-term benefits as we prepare for a tariff-only system by 2006.”

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Net sales were $848m, compared to $829m in the second quarter of 2003. Chiquita said the increase resulted from favourable European currency exchange rates and higher other fresh produce sales, partially offset by lower local banana pricing and volume.