Japan's Itochu in talks to buy part of Dole Food

Japanese trading house Itochu said it was in talks with Dole Food to buy the US firm's packaged-foods and Asian fresh fruit and vegetable businesses, reportedly for as much as $1.7 billion.

Itochu will set up a new company in Tokyo to purchase the operations, subject to a finalised deal, it said in a statement, released on Thursday.

The companies "are currently negotiating the terms of Itochu's acquisition of the fruit and vegetable business in Asia and the global processed foods business held by Dole," the statement said.

The announcement came as the leading Nikkei business daily reported that Itochu would pay as much as $1.7 billion for the units, betting on strong growth for fruits and vegetables among Asia's burgeoning middle class.

Itochu, one of Japan's biggest trading houses that deals in everything from textiles and machinery to chemicals and food, and Dole are aiming to reach a final agreement this month, the report said.

Dole, which says it is world's largest producer and marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables, posted sales of about $7.2 billion in 2011.

The processing operations and Asian fruit and vegetable business -- comprised of production and sales -- accounted for about 40 percent of revenue, the Nikkei said.

In a statement on its website, Dole confirmed that it was "in advanced negotiations with Itochu Corporation for the possible sale of its Packaged Foods and Asia Fresh businesses.

"No definitive agreements have been signed at this time, and Dole continues in discussions with several other parties regarding these assets and others."

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