Cantillon: sweet success is not enough as Fyffes’ plans mushroom

Fruit company savours new flavour with the purchase of mushroom producer Highline

Umami. Sounds like an awkward yoga position. But shareholders who turned up to Fyffes’ annual general meeting know better.

The tropical fruit importer treated investors to a five-minute video at yesterday's meeting showcasing its biggest deal yet: the purchase of a Canadian mushroom producer, Highline Produce, for almost €98 million earlier this month.

Umami, the captive audience in Dublin was informed, is one of the five basic tastes, after sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Fyffes chairman David McCann is banking on the savoury taste found in mushrooms bringing a new dimension to the company's earnings.

The purchase of Highline, the largest mushroom producer in Canada and fourth largest in North America, has prompted Fyffes to upgrade its earnings forecasts for the year. The business will add immediately to the group's profits.

Operating earnings at Fyffes have grown by a compound annual rate of 17 per cent since 2008. In absolute terms, they have increased by about 200 per cent.

Stock analysts will be busy over the coming weeks updating their models on the company.

Adding a fourth string to its bow – alongside bananas, pineapples and melons – has certainly gone down well with investors in the past month. The stock has soared almost 15 per cent.

Fyffes shareholders have enjoyed the return of €82 million to them since 2007, between dividends and share buybacks. And they can presumably expect the acquisition of debt-free Highline to add to their returns over the coming years.

But you get the impression that this is a small consolation prize after Fyffes proposed $1 billion (€873,000,000) merger with US rival Chiquita Brands died a death in 2014. Chiquita ultimately fell into the hands of Brazil's Cutrale and Safra groups.

The Chiquita affair left a distinct sour taste in the mouth of McCann and the rest of his board.

At least with Highline now he’s got something more, well, umami-like to savour.