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F.S. Duda announces retirement as CEO of A. Duda & Sons; Joseph A. Duda appointed new CEO

Ferdinand S. Duda, chief executive officer of the agribusiness A. Duda & Sons Inc., based in Oviedo, FL, has announced his retirement from full-time employment with the family-owned business, effective Jan. 1.

Mr. Duda has been elected to serve as chairman of the board of directors and will continue to work on special projects for the company on a consulting basis.

Joseph A. Duda will succeed his brother as chief executive officer and continue to serve as president.

?F.S. has provided strong, steady leadership during a period of significant growth of both our agriculture and real estate divisions," said Joseph Duda. "We congratulate him on his good work and accomplishments, and we are pleased that he will continue to serve the company in his new capacity as chairman."

During F.S. Duda?s tenure as president and CEO, the company saw its revenues nearly double to over $400 million in 2004. Significant growth initiatives were implemented in many of the company?s diversified business units, which include fresh, fresh-cut and processed vegetables; citrus; sugar cane; sod; cattle; and real estate.

Challenged to become more customer-focused, the company?s fruit and vegetable divisions expanded operations and increased volumes to become a true multi-regional, year-round supplier.

F.S. Duda, 65, is the son of Ferdinand Duda, one of three brothers who, along with their father, Andrew, established A. Duda & Sons in Oviedo, FL, in 1926. Mr. Duda began his career with the family business in 1961 after earning a degree in agriculture sciences from the University of Florida. His first job was as an assistant unit manager at the company?s Belle Glade farm. He continued to work for the company?s farms division and, in 1986, was appointed senior executive vice president. He was appointed president and chief operating officer of the company in 1992, and president and chief executive officer in 1998. In 2003, he retained the office of CEO and Joseph Duda was named president of the corporation.

Joseph Duda, 63, joined the company in 1965 as a working supervisor for cattle operations. As the cattle division grew, so did his responsibilities. He was appointed executive vice president of the division in 1978. When the company expanded its real estate and land development business, he accepted the challenge to head the new subsidiary, being appointed president of The Viera Co. in 1990 and subsequently chief executive officer in 1995. He was named president of A. Duda & Sons Inc. in 2003.

?Joseph?s experience managing our land assets and overseeing the development of the master-planned community of Viera is significant. The corporation will continue to expand its real estate operations and they will play an ever increasing role in the company?s future," said F.S. Duda.

Half of Costa Rica?s banana crop flooded

At least four Costa Ricans were killed, 16,000 people were evacuated and thousands of acres of bananas were destroyed when record-breaking rains struck the Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica and northern Panama Jan. 8. While the worst rainfall was on Jan. 8, the downpour didn?t end until Jan. 13.

Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte all have major production in the stricken region, while "Banacol has a farm with a couple hundred hectares impacted. Banacol did not have as much damage as the other companies," Tim Debus, executive director of the International Banana Association in Washington, DC, told The Produce News Jan. 17.

According to Costa Rica?s English language newspaper, The Tico Times, rainfall reached record levels Saturday at Costa Rica?s National Meteorological Institute?s checkpoint in the Caribbean port city Lim?n, when 13.5 inches fell in 24 hours. In one day, the downpour surpassed the average rainfall for the month by more than 1.5 inches and broke the 1970 record for rainfall in one day in a January, which was 10.9 inches. The average precipitation for all January in Lim?n is 11.9 inches. During the days of this emergency, the region received 21.88 inches of rain.

According to Mr. Debus, Costa Rican and Panamanian flooding has "severely damaged the areas? infrastructure " and caused heavy losses to thousands of hectares of banana production. The governments of both Costa Rica and Panama declared states of emergency in the affected areas."

According to the IBA, Costa Rica is a principal supplier of bananas to the U.S. market, accounting for approximately 22 percent of the bananas imported into the United States in 2004. Banana exports from Panama contribute less than 1 percent of the overall U.S. banana supply, as most bananas from Panama go to European markets.

Banana production in Costa Rica occurs on about 40,000 hectares. Approximately half of the country?s 90 million to 100 million boxes exported each year are destined for the United States.

?Despite the anticipated loss of banana exports from Costa Rica this year as a result of the floods, it is still uncertain at this time what the impact of the flood damage will have on U.S. banana supply in 2005," Mr. Debus said. "IBA members in the region are working with government and other relief organizations to secure the safety of the people and the recovery of their properties and livelihoods. Once stability is restored in the areas, IBA members will be able to better assess the effects of this disaster on banana production and operations."

Mr. Debus said that unofficial and early government estimates were that infrastructure losses totaled $20 million because of the flooding. "One of the main roads to [the port city] La Moin is shut off, so growers are losing their chance to conduct exports."

Mr. Debus and news reports both indicated that bananas were the predominant crop in the flooded area, though some pineapple acreage was also affected. The Costa Rican banana company Corbana indicated to Mr. Debus on Jan. 14 that 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of bananas were flooded. Mr. Debus said that industry estimates will become more accurate with time.

The immediate impact of the storm means that Costa Rica "will not able to harvest and have normal business operations at this time," Mr. Debus said. With roads destroyed, "they can?t export. We will see some impact as the year progresses, with new plants replanted."

While the banana plants were not blown down as they might be in a hurricane, there is a danger that root systems are damaged by standing water, so the quality of production from standing plants will be negatively impacted. "The longer the water stands, the worse it is," Mr. Debus said.

Mr. Debus noted that banana companies have the flexibility to source from a variety of growing areas. He expects the companies losing fruit in Costa Rica and Panama will be looking for supplies from other countries, such as Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras "until there is fruit from Costa Rica again."

The International Banana Association is the trade organization for the banana importers and marketers in North America. IBA works to defend and improve the financial health of the members? banana business.

Nancy Betancourt named director of fresh fruit sales for Maui Pineapple

Maui Pineapple Co. Ltd., a leading supplier of high-quality, fresh Hawaiian pineapple based in Kahului, Maui, announced that Nancy Betancourt has been named director of fresh fruit sales. The appointment was effective Jan. 3.

?Nancy has terrific experience in the fresh produce industry and more specifically in developing business for fresh Hawaiian Pineapple," said Howard Nager, vice president of fresh sales and marketing. "We are looking for Nancy to build new relationships and seek out new business opportunities in support of our projected growth."

Ms. Betancourt has over 18 years of fresh produce sales background. Most recently, she spent 15 years with Del Monte Fresh Produce in Southern California, where she was responsible for the coordination and sales of all Hawaiian and Costa Rican pineapple for the western United States and western Canada.

She earned her degrees in both psychology and business administration from California State University-Los Angeles.

Black Diamond buys Sun World for $127 million

When Sun World International Inc., in Bakersfield, CA, went on the auction block Thursday, Jan. 13, the bidding opened at $95 million, with Black Diamond Capital Management LLC, a Lake Forest, IL-based investment group and a major Sun World bond holder, as the stalking horse bidder.

But other investors were also very eager to add Sun World to their portfolio " so eager that at the end of the day, the winning bid " from Black Diamond " came in at $127,750,000.

Sun World President and CEO Tim Shaheen was elated. In a telephone interview with The Produce News immediately following the bankruptcy court?s approval of the sale on Friday, Jan. 14, he said, "I tell you, it was an entertaining day. Yesterday afternoon was good for about a $30 million increase [over the initial Black Diamond offer]."

The active bidding and the size of the final ticket show that "there was strong interest? in Sun World on the part of two other prospective buyers, said Mr. Shaheen. "It is a great business. It is a strong business. As you can imagine, to go from where we were to where we ended up, there was definite strong interest in this."

He did not identify the other two bidders. "That is not going to be public to my knowledge," he said, but he did say that unlike Black Diamond, neither of them were major Sun World bondholders.

Black Diamond, too, is pleased with the outcome of the auction. In a Jan. 14 statement, Christopher Kipley, a partner at Black Diamond, said, "Black Diamond Capital Management is pleased that the private equity distressed debt fund it manages was successful in yesterday?s bankruptcy auction of Sun World International with a winning bid of $127,750,000. As the stalking horse bidder in the auction, we recognized early on the value potential of this leading agricultural company and we look forward to capitalizing on this opportunity going forward.

?We intend to build upon Sun World?s core strengths and its excellent organization so that the company can continue to serve the needs of its customers," Mr. Kipley added.

Black Diamond, a privately held alternative-asset management firm with approximately $5 billion under management, had no additional comments, according to Jeffrey Lloyd of Sitrick & Co., a spokesman for the Black Diamond group.

The sale of Sun World to Black Diamond is still "subject to closing," said Mr. Shaheen. There are "several closing conditions? that need to be met, "but nothing we expect would be problematic." He expects the closing process to take from two to six weeks.

With the bankruptcy judge?s approval of the sale, closure will constitute the final step in Sun World?s emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Mr. Shaheen said. "The judge has approved it already, so the closing of this would be the final step to emerge. Everybody is pretty excited. It has been a long time."

Sun World filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early 2003. In December 2003, Sun World?s financially troubled parent company, Cadiz Inc., effectively divested Sun World by putting its ownership in trust. Cadiz acquired Sun world in 1996 following an earlier Sun World bankruptcy.

Asked whether he expected Black Diamond to leave the existing management in place, Mr. Shaheen replied, "I?ll let that direction come from them. I don?t want to speak on their behalf. From Sun World?s perspective, we are doing our best to accommodate the new group and trying to work with them to see the closing.

?[Sun World] has been through a lot over the last 10 or 15 years in terms of changing ownership and the like," he continued. "It is a very resilient and innovative company. I think operationally it just has continued to do very well because of the employees and vendors and customers.

?I think it is unfortunate we had, let?s say, challenging capital structures," he added. "That was the case when it was in bankruptcy in the mid-1990s. That was the case when Cadiz acquired it. Probably the most significant thing the new party would bring is to provide the financial strength for the company to continue to execute its business plan."

Since being placed in trust, Sun World "has been operating effectively in a trust overseen by me and the board of directors," Mr. Shaheen said. "The creditors have not been involved in the management of the business at all. It was effectively an estate, and the management of the estate still is under the bankruptcy court."

The estate consisted of "a number of participants," including bondholders and trade creditors, he said. "There are a lot of parties to the estate." But management has remained under the direction of essentially the same board of directors and officers Sun World had prior to its filing for bankruptcy. The appointment of an administrator for the trust "was never contemplated," he said.

That is very different from what happens in many bankruptcy cases and "very different from the first time Sun World was in bankruptcy? in 1994-1996, when "there were a lot of contested issues? and the court appointed an administrator.

This time around, it has been "a very consensual process " amicable, if such a thing can be handled amicably, he said. "The dialog with creditors continued to be wide open. Everybody was working toward a consensual plan."

The process "had its moments," he said, "but in court, with everybody involved, it was a session of "kumbaya.' "

N.C. SweetPotato Commission offers chefs and restaurateurs some R&R

The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission kicked off a new program designed to recognize and reward chefs and restaurateurs who are supporting North Carolina sweet potato growers by including them and identifying their origin on menus.

Effective Jan. 1 and running through April 30, the commission will be accepting applications from chefs and restaurateurs in North Carolina and surrounding states who want to be considered for this program.

?The objective is identify 10 chefs and/or restaurateurs who are featuring North Carolina sweet potatoes by name on their menus, present them with a certificate of appreciation and reward them with a $100 check," said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission.

If an applicant includes a chain with 10 or more locations, that chain will receive a check for $500. The commission will include up to two chains in this program.

To be considered for the program, each applicant must include North Carolina sweet potatoes on the menu for a minimum of two months and provide documentation such as menus and/or purchase orders for sweet potatoes grown in North Carolina.

?Members of our Chefs Advisory Board have been showing this kind of support since its inception almost four years ago," said Ms. Johnson-Langdon. "A North Carolina sweet potato waffle is on Chef Brian Stapleton?s menu at The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, and Daniel Schurr, executive chef at Second Empire Restaurant in Raleigh has North Carolina mashed sweet potatoes on his menu. We want to encourage more chefs to do the same, so we?re making this investment on behalf of all of the sweet potato growers in our state."

The chefs on the advisory board also show their dedication and support for North Carolina growers by developing and donating recipes for use on postcards, recipe brochures and the commission?s web site.

Julie Scott, vice president of account service at The Thacker Group, the public relations firm that coordinates the Chefs Advisory Board and other public relations and promotion programs on behalf of the commission, added, "Several of the chefs have donated their time and energy to serve as spokespeople on local and national television and radio. Most recently, the chefs lent their names, faces and celebrity for a chef trading card program that features the chef on one side and a North Carolina sweet potato recipe on the other."

Currently, 14 chefs from around the state serve on the NCSPC Chefs Advisory Board.

For more information about the Restaurant Reward & Recognition program, contact Julie Scott at 918/382-7272 or by e-mail at Julie@thackergroup.com.