Tropical fruit giant buys Canada’s top mushroom firm

A major worldwide distributor and marketer of bananas, pineapples and melons is making a move into the mushroom business, by buying Canada’s biggest player.

Fyffes, whose products are sold in Canada and the U.S. under the Fyffes, Turbana, Sol and Fresh Quest labels, on Friday announced it has paid $145 million for all equity in Leamington, Ont.-based Highline Produce and to refinance its debt.

With this deal, the Dublin, Ireland-based fruit firm gets the world’s largest grower of organic mushrooms and Canada’s “largest operator” in the mushroom sector, moving about 26.3 million kg of mushrooms a year.

Highline bills its cropping techniques as “highly developed” to produce all white, mini bella and portabella mushrooms without the pesticides or fungicides it says are commonly used in conventional mushroom production.

“We already operate some of the most state-of-the-art mushroom facilities in North America, and this arrangement will give us access to a global market leader in fresh produce,” Highline CEO Glenn Martin — who will still lead the mushroom business for Fyffes — said in a release.

Retail customers make up about 75 per cent of Highline’s sales, with the rest bound for the wholesale, foodservice and canning sectors. Of its current annual revenues, U.S. customers account for about 35 per cent.

“This transaction fits perfectly with Fyffes’ strategic objective of adding an additional product to its existing three, through the acquisition of an established, successful, integrated operator in a category with significant scale,” Fyffes chair David McCann said in the same release.

Founded at Leamington, about 40 km southeast of Windsor, in 1961, Highline put up a second Leamington farm in 1985 and expanded that site in 2007. It also bought existing mushroom farms at Wellington, about 30 km south of Belleville, in 1990 and at Kingsville, about 15 km west of Leamington, in 2009.

Highline, which today employs about 1,150 people in all, set up its Montreal distribution centre in the 1990s to serve Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Fyffes, whose banana business dates back to 1888, maintains operations in Europe, Central and South America and in Florida. It bills itself as Europe’s leading banana company and as the largest importer of winter melons into the U.S.

Its expansion ambitions suffered a setback in 2014 when it lost out on a major merger with U.S. banana and produce marketing giant Chiquita.

That deal, which would have created the world’s largest banana company, was called off when the North Carolina firm instead accepted a US$1.3 billion cash bid from Brazilian fruit juice maker Cutrale and investment firm Safra Group.

Fyffes said Friday it will fund the Highline takeover using both new and existing bank debt. — AGCanada.com Network

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