Sales boost Dole profits

By Courtney Schlisserman and Shobhana Chandra
Bloomberg News

Westlake Village, Calif. >> Dole Food Co., the world's largest fruit and vegetable producer, had a third-quarter profit of $14.7 million, helped by demand for packaged salads and rising prices in Asia.

Fourth-quarter profit will be lower than analysts' forecast partly because of fewer cost-cutting benefits. Net income in the quarter ended Oct. 5 was 26 cents a share, compared with a net loss of $94.8 million, or $1.70, a year earlier, Dole said in a statement.

Sales rose 3.8 percent $1.25 billion on higher banana prices in Asia, greater volume in the European ripening and distribution business and increased demand for packaged salads and fruits, the company said. Most of the benefits from cost-cutting programs started last year have taken effect, President and Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Kern said in a statement.

"Our challenge, going forward, is to grow Dole's earnings by growing market share in our core businesses through internal growth and selective acquisitions," Kern said.

Buying companies may be more challenging because of competition and because of Dole's market position in some businesses, Kern said. A special committee of board members is negotiating with Chief Executive David Murdock to take the company private. Murdock's initial offer of $29.50 a share was rejected last month.

Fourth-quarter profit will be 20 cents to 24 cents a share excluding certain costs, the company said. Dole was forecast to earn 27 cents, the average estimate of four analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

Dole was founded in Hawaii in 1851 and for nearly 150 years was one of the most prominent companies in the islands.

In recent years it has spun off or closed most of its Hawaii operations, but the company still owns 8,000 acres of land on Oahu where it grows fresh pineapple. It stopped growing coffee, bananas and other crops on that land, citing the high costs of doing business in Hawaii

Shares of Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole closed down 37 cents to $28.87 on the New York Stock Exchange. They had risen 9 percent this year.

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