Q. When you recently reported your fourth-quarter and full-year earnings, you said that 2006 was your most challenging year. Why?
A. Higher costs from energy. That affected packing and plastics and logistics in every way. Prices for everything went up, and all of a sudden. At the end of 2005, when we projected for 2006, we never expected energy and fuel prices to shoot up by 50, 60, 70 percent. Also, the dollar has weakened over the past year. And the currencies in our producing nations have shot up.
Q. How will you turn things around in 2007?
A. We closed operations that were not so profitable, like some potato operations and onion operations in North America, and sold some others. We also closed some pineapple operations in Hawaii, where costs were extremely high. We will see benefits from these actions. We are also working on some pricing, like with bananas, in North America.
Q. Where do you see the most opportunity for growth this year?
A. We are focusing on our new markets, Middle East and Africa. Countries like the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, where we have a successful poultry operation.
In Africa, we are focusing on North Africa; Algeria is a strong market in particular. We have just opened a state-of-the-art plant for processed meats in Jordan, and we will market the products throughout the whole region.
We are also now entering into ice creams in Europe. We are experiencing high growth rates in volumes, and we are intending to expand that into new markets as well.
Q. How do you stay on top of all this business all over the world?
A. I�m usually on the road about six months a year. Two days ago, I returned from a trip that took me halfway around the globe. I started by going to Dubai, then went to the Philippines, then to Hong Kong then Japan. Then I went back to North America, then Chile, then back to North America. And right now I�m talking to you from Jordan.
Q. I know your company was not involved, but the recent widespread contamination of bagged spinach put food safety in the public spotlight. How do you ensure the safety of your produce?
A. Safety has been one of our major focuses, not only this year, but always. We have a system that can detect every carton or package that was handled by our company. We can even tell to the point that we know who was packing each box. We are very comfortable with our system and our controls.