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Japan's buying bananas

Japanese trading house Itochu Corp has followed Kirin and Asahi into the Australian food industry, snapping up banana farms in Queensland as part of its $US1.7 million agreement to acquire Dole Food Company's Asian produce and global packaged food operations.

The deal, announced in California this week, will make Itochu a key player in the local $450m banana industry and a supplier to Coles and Woolworths.

Dole is believed to own five banana farms and a packaging operation in Far North Queensland and has ripening and distribution operations in NZ.

Under the deal, Itochu will have exclusive rights to the Dole trademark on packaged and fresh food in Asia, Australia and NZ.

Dole has 20 trademarks registered in Australia, including Dolicious, Dole, Sweetio, and Bobby Banana.

Itochu, Japan's third largest trading house, is aiming to boost sales from food to insulate itself against volatility in iron ore, coal and oil, and generate a more defensive earnings stream. The company, which owns Japan's third largest convenience store chain, FamilyMart, is aiming to almost double earnings from food in the next three years, according to its annual report.

Cashed-up Japanese trading houses have been actively buying agribusiness assets overseas.

Marubeni acquired Gavilon Group, the third largest grain merchandiser in the US, for $US3.6 billion in May, and Mitsui bought Brazilian grain broker Multigrain last year.

Dole, the world's largest fruit and vegetable producer, decided to sell its Asian and packaged food operations after a strategic review and will use the proceeds to reduce debt.


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