BIZ-DOLE-IRELAND-TB

Dole Food Co., the iconic U.S. fruit company, will merge with the Irish firm Total Produce and move its headquarters to Dublin.

Dole Food Company will merge with Irish firm Total Produce to form the world’s largest fresh produce company, the two companies announced Wednesday.

The combined company, to be called Dole PLC, will have its global headquarters in Dublin, while its Americas headquarters will be in Charlotte, N.C.

The merger, which is pending shareholder and regulatory approval, will create a firm that will be a top supplier of everything from pineapples to lettuce to both Europe and North America.

Dole Food moved its headquarters from Westlake Village, Calif., to Charlotte in 2019. A Dole representative said that the company currently employs 50 people in its Charlotte headquarters, and that expansion is possible in the area as the company grows.

If approved, the deal will mark the end of billionaire David Murdock’s control of the iconic fruit brand. Murdock bought the firm that controlled Dole in 1985 and contributed to a successful turnaround of the brand.

The chairman of the new Dole will be Carl McCann, the Total Produce chair, and the CEO of new Dole will be Rory Byrne, Total Produce’s CEO. Dole Food’s current CEO, Johan Lindén, will become chief operating officer of the new company.

“This is the right long-term outcome for not just Total Produce but for Dole as well,” Byrne said on a shareholder call Thursday. “We’ll have a very well-balanced portfolio of products across a range of geographies”

The combined company will have nearly $10 billion in sales, almost double its nearest competitor, according to a presentation to shareholders. Total Produce shareholders will receive 82.5% of the new Dole, while the shareholders of the old Murdock-controlled entity, Castle & Cooke, will get 17.5% of the new Dole.

The new Dole will have an initial public offering on a U.S. stock exchange slated for later this year as a part of the deal.

Wednesday’s announcement builds on a 2018 tie-up between the two firms. Total Produce bought 45% of Dole for $300 million in 2018. At the time, McCann became vice chairman of Dole.

Murdock’s legacy

The fruit and vegetable giant’s connection to the Charlotte area started in earnest after Murdock’s purchase of Dole’s parent in 1985. Dole had long been associated with Hawaii — it is named for a family that helped in the overthrow of Hawaii’s native monarchy in the 19th Century.

Murdock had bought and sold Cannon Mills in Kannapolis in the 1980s.

After the textile maker Pillowtex, a Cannon Mills successor, collapsed in the 2000s, he bought some of the land and built the expansive North Carolina Research Campus on it.

In a 2005 interview with the Observer, Murdock, from his home on Kannapolis Lake, said, “You can’t live in an area, if you have any kind of a heart and soul, and not feel you want to end up adding something to that area.”

The Kannapolis campus, which researches nutrition and agriculture, is part of Murdock’s plan to live to 125 years old, in part by eating large amounts of plants.

Murdock’s control of Dole, mostly consistent since 1985, has been controversial at times.

In 2015, a Delaware judge ordered Murdock and a former Dole executive to pay $148.1 million over allegations they drove down the value of the Dole so Murdock could buy a chunk of the company on the cheap in 2013. He settled similar allegations with Dole shareholders for $74 million in 2017.