Since Chiquita Brands International was purchased by Brazilian fruit juice supplier Cutrale Group and Brazilian banking and investment conglomerate Safra at the start of the year, the US multinational’s board of directors and team of senior executives has been almost completely overhauled, as new documents released by the company this month have confirmed.
The question many will ask is, in what direction is the company now headed as a result? The most likely scenario, of course, is that those in charge will seek to maximise the potential of what is arguably the world’s most famous fruit brand and apply it to product areas with which the new owners are most familiar.
The new owners have installed a total of four new directors and three new managers, with former chief operating officer – and now interim chief executive officer – Brian Kocher the company’s only surviving member from the pre-Cutrale era.
Interestingly, while new owner José Luis Cutrale presumably will have a great deal of sway when it comes to setting a course for the new-look group, three of the four directors can be characterised very much as Safra appointments, with only Cutrale’s finance man Philip Warner joining Cutrale himself in representing the Brazilian juice company on the board.
For that reason alone, it seems Safra intends to keep a close eye on what’s happening at Chiquita.
Meanwhile, two of the new names on Chiquita’s executive management team – juice industry leaders Andrew Biles and Kenneth Diveley – are evidently more closely linked to Cutrale and the world of juices than they are to the fresh produce business and, specifically, tropical fruit.
Whether that reflects a desire to steer the company more towards the juice business and other value-add sectors of the food and beverage industry, or perhaps more simply the fact that Cutrale is just filling the executive team with people it knows and trusts, remains to be seen.
Although retaining Kocher’s services will ensure continuity, putting Biles in charge of the banana and pineapple division is nevertheless an intriguing move. Yes, he used to help run Dole Europe, but it’s a long time since he worked in the fresh produce trade and, having spent more than a decade and half at European beverage giant Gerber, a lot of juice has flowed under the bridge in the intervening period.
The fact that Kocher is only a temporary appointment suggests that, for the time being at least, the owners are keeping their options open when it comes to the future direction of the business and its potential diversification into other areas.
Were they to champion a major new push into juices and smoothies (Chiquita has of course tried this already and failed in Europe) then it might not be a surprise to see Biles eventually take over as chief executive, having spent a period of time getting up to speed with the present-day fresh produce business.
Equally, it is very possible that Kocher will benefit from having two leading lights of the juice business supporting a renewed push into the realm of value-added products and make the CEO role his own on a permanent basis.
Either way, it will be interesting to see how Chiquita's global commercial strategy evolves over the coming months.
Below, we’ve profiled the eight members of Chiquita’s new-look directorial and executive team.
Celso Barison (65)
Described by Chiquita as “a career banker” with “extensive experience in the fresh produce market, Celso Barison has served as senior financial advisor to Safra Group, including Safra National Bank of New York, since 1999. Six years ago, he was appointed as chief executive of Cutrale North America, a holding company with interests in the frozen orange juice wholesale sector. Barison is also president of Cutrale subsidiary Citrus Products, which operates a distribution centre for juice and related products, and presides over General Avileasing, an equipment rental and aviation leasing company.
Carlos Bertaco Bomfim (49)
Another banker with particular expertise in accounting, financial and regulatory reporting, Carlos Bertaco Bomfim has spent the past 14 years as executive vice-president and controller of Safra National Bank in New York.
Michael Rubinoff (52)
Having left his role as chairman of global and corporate investment at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in January 2012, over the past three years Michael Rubinoff has worked closely with Safra Group affiliate J Safra Asset Management Corporation, firstly as president between April 2012 to September 2013 and subsequently as a consultant. He is also a director of Global Atlantic Financial Group.
Philip Warner (52)
Making up a quartet of appointments to the new-look Chiquita board, Philip Warner is an accountant, tax expert and qualified company auditor. Since March 2011, he has served as chief financial officer of Cutrale Group subsidiary Burlingtown UK, the Bristol-based juice and soft drink wholesaler founded in 2007. Burlingtown UK is one of two joint owners of Cavendish Global Limited and Cavendish Acquisition Corporation, the companies set up to acquire Chiquita Brands International. Prior to that, Warner was a senior tax adviser at RSM Tenon (formerly RSM Bentley Jennison and now part of Baker Tilly UK).
Brian Kocher (45)
Interim president and chief executive officer
Brian Kocher joined Chiquita in 2005 and, having worked in various finance roles, was appointed as president of its North America business in October 2007. Three years later, he relocated to Switzerland to head up its operations in Europe and the Middle East, before returning to the US in early 2012 to take on the position of chief financial officer. In April 2013, Kocher became Chiquita’s chief operating officer.
Andrew Biles (62)
Chief executive officer, Chiquita Bananas and Pineapples
Andrew Biles will be known to many in the fresh produce business as the former chief operating officer of Dole Food’s European operations, a position he held from 1992 to 1998. Prior to joining Chiquita, Biles spent 16 years as chief executive of Gerber Emig Group, a leading bottler of fruit juices and soft drinks based in the UK that was acquired by European giant Refresco Gerber in 2013. He was chairman of Turkish food and beverage company Frigo-Pak from 1998 to September 2012, president of the European Fruit Juice Association from 2004 to January 2015, and director of international private investment group Hanover Acceptances from 1999 to 2013.
Kenneth Diveley (65)
Chief executive officer, Fresh Express and Chiquita Fruit Solutions
Since 2006, Kenneth Diveley has led Diveley Services, a consultancy he created to offer supply chain solutions for food and beverage companies. Diveley previously served in various senior leadership roles at PepsiCo International and Tropicana.
Darcilo Santos (46)
Chief financial officer
From May 2013 to January 2015, Darcilo Santos worked at Safra Bank in São Paolo Brazil, where he held several positions including risk and finance executive, managing director and chief data officer. Prior to that, from September 2000 to April 2013 Santos worked at Banco Itaú. Santos has over 25 years of experience working in the financial and banking industries.
Source: Chiquita Brands International