94-year-old David Murdock may finally have his exit strategy from Dole Food Co. Total Produce Plc, which claims to be “Europe’s leading fresh produce company,” on Feb. 1 announced a binding agreement to acquire a 45 percent equity stake in Dole Food Co. for $300 million in cash.
The deal gives Total Produce the option to acquire an additional 6 percent of Dole stock at any time, raising the Irish firm’s stake to 51 percent. Two years down the road, Total Produce has the right to acquire all of Dole. But if Total does not buy the rest of the company within five years, Murdock has the right to sell the entire company to another buyer.
Although Dole has flipped from public company to private company twice, Murdock has held a controlling interest in the produce company since 1985. He currently is the sole owner. Last April, he filed papers indicating he might take Dole public again.
Dole is almost entirely a fresh produce company, having sold its packaged foods business in 2014 to Japanese firm Itochu Corp. for nearly $1.7 billion. The division represented a third of Dole’s revenue but most of its profit.
For the 12 months ended October 7, 2017, Dole had sales of nearly $4.5 billion and earnings before taxes and other deductions of $237 million. With all its incentives, the transaction values Dole at approximately $2 billion, the parties said. Total Produce’s sales are about $5 billion.
The two companies have had a friendly association over the years, and Total Produce’s Chairman Carl McCann called Murdock “a good friend of my late father Neil, my predecessor as chairman.”