FRUIT firm Fyffes and rival Chiquita are to merge to create the world's largest banana company, worth about £597m.

The proposed new business will be called ChiquitaFyffes and generate revenues of 2.75bn from the sale of more than 160 million banana boxes a year, as well as melons and pineapples.

Dublin-based Fyffes, which also sells products under the Sol brand, employs more than 12,000 people worldwide.

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US-based Chiquita is the larger of the two firms with annual revenues of £1.8bn and 20,000 staff.

Shareholders in the North Carolina-based company will own 50.7 per cent of the combined business following the merger, which values Fyffes at £314.5m.

The existing brands will be retained but customers will have access to a more diverse product mix and choice, the two companies said.

Fyffes executive chairman David McCann, who will become chief executive of the merged business, said: "Our outstanding employees will benefit from working for a larger, more diverse business which offers opportunities for growth.

"We believe we will be able to use our joint expertise, complementary assets and geographic coverage to develop a business that can run smoothly and efficiently to better partner with our customers and suppliers."

Fyffes began trading in the 1880s when the first commercial delivery of bananas from the Canary Islands arrived in London for EW Fyffe, Son & Co.
The worlds oldest fruit brand came into being in 1929 with the famous blue label and its bananas are sourced in the Tropics from countries such as Costa Rica, Guatemala and Colombia.

It employs about 4,000 people in the UK and Ireland, including in Portsmouth, Livingston and Wakefield.