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Fyffes benefits from fair wind of healthy diets

Trends toward healthier eating helped Fyffes, the Dublin-based banana distributor, to improve its profits for last year. Fyffes also managed to avoid the ravages of Hurricane Debbie, which hit parts of the Caribbean in October and which affected Geest, the rival fruit group.

The chairman of Fyffes' UK division, John Ellis, said that sales of bananas in the UK had increased by about 8 per cent a year for the past eight years, with healthier eating the driving force. "We are in the right place at the right time," he said. "It is certainly a hell of a lot better than being in the tobacco business. People have more disposable income for fruit these days."

Mr Ellis was speaking as Fyffes unveiled full-year profits of Ir£36.1m (£35.7m), 13.6 per cent higher than last year on sales up 44 per cent at Ir£897m. Two-thirds of sales growth has come from the five acquisitions Fyffes made during 1994, in the Netherlands, Germany, France and Jamaica. Mr Ellis said the Caribbean hurricane, which hit the Windward Islands, had not affected Fyffes' operations, which are in Jamaica, Belize, Surinam and Guatemala. He added that Fyffes had some trading operations in Mexico but those were too small for the peso crisis to have had a material affect on the company.

The American operations, which began last year, proved a disappointment, with prices below expectations throughout the year. Shipping levels are improving but the company says prices will have to rise before the US business begins to produce positive results.

Mr Ellis said the company would continue to look for acquisitions. The dividend was increased 10 per cent to Ir1.52p. The shares slipped 2p to 100p.