Fruit producer Dole, led by 94-year-old CEO, files to go public

(Reuters) - U.S. fruit and vegetable producer Dole Food Co Inc, led by 94-year old David Murdock, filed with regulators on Tuesday for an initial public offering, four years after it was taken private.

The California-based company — once the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables — was taken private by Murdock in 2013 in a $1.2 billion deal following a four-year run as a publicly-listed company.

The sale came as Dole struggled to generate profits amid volatile demand and low prices for bananas, its highest selling product.

Before going private, Dole had sold its packaged foods and Asia fresh produce businesses to Japan’s Itochu Corp for $1.7 billion, shrinking itself by a third, to help pay down debt.

Since Dole’s sale to Murdock, the fruit producer has cut costs, sold non-core assets, improved its supply chain and diversified its product lines, the company said in its IPO paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Dole, one of the largest producers of bananas and pineapples, also said it expects to benefit from the increasing demand for fresh produce from health-conscious consumers.

The company generated $4.51 billion in revenue last year, but posted a net loss of $23.7 million. That compares with a loss of $144.5 million and revenue of $4.25 billion in 2012 — the year before Dole went private.

Murdock, who made his fortune in real estate, first bought Dole in 1985.

The nonagenarian CEO last year reached a settlement related to a lawsuit that alleged he short-changed shareholders in 2013 when he took Dole private.

Dole filed for an IPO of up to $100 million of its common stock.

The amount a company says it plans to raise in its first IPO filings is used to calculate registration fees. The final size of the IPO could be different.

Net proceeds from the offering will be used to pay down debt and for other expenses, Dole said.

Morgan Stanley, BofA Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank are among underwriters for the offering.