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Fresh Del Monte Produce (NYSE:FDP)
Q4 2020 Earnings Call
Feb 24, 2021, 10:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Operator

Good day, everyone, and welcome to Fresh Del Monte Produce fourth-quarter and full-year 2020 conference call. today's conference call is being broadcast live over the Internet and is also being recorded for playback purposes. [Operator instructions] For opening remarks and introductions, I would now like to turn today's call over to the vice president, investor relations with Fresh Del Monte Produce, Christine Cannella. Please go ahead, Ms.

Cannella.

Christine Cannella -- Vice President, Investor Relations

Thank you, Amy. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining our fourth-quarter and full-year 2020 conference call. As Amy mentioned, I am Christine Cannella, vice president, investor relations with Fresh Del Monte Produce. Joining me in today's discussion are Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh, chairman and chief executive officer; and Eduardo Bezerra, senior vice president and chief financial officer.

I hope that you've had a chance to review the press release that was issued earlier this morning via Business Wire. You may also visit the company's website at freshdelmonte.com for a copy of today's release, as well as, to register for future distribution. This conference call is being webcast live on our website and will be available for replay after this call. Please note that our press release includes reconciliations of any non-GAAP financial measures we mentioned today to their corresponding GAAP measures.

I would like to remind you that much of the information we will be speaking to today, including the answers we give in response to your questions, may include forward-looking statements within the provisions of the federal securities safe harbor laws. We ask that you review the forward-looking statements information included in the press release we issued this morning and in the company's most recent filings with the SEC. With that, I am pleased to turn today's call over to Mohammad.

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Christine. Good morning, everyone. As everyone on the call know, 2020 came with unprecedented challenges. I'm extremely proud of how our global team has responded and adapted to the ever-changing conditions to continue to get our products to market, serve our communities with donations while taking the necessary precaution to keep our production environment safe for our team members.

We made progress on many fronts in 2020, building a solid foundation for a strong future, which I will highlight in a minute. However, I want to first mention the events that affected our quarter's performance. The COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact Fresh Del Monte, especially in our largest market, North America, primarily as a result of ongoing disruption in the foodservice business. In November, hurricanes Eta and Iota took their toll on Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Despite the devastation sustained on our farms and communities, we quickly engaged a global team to lend support and assistance to our team members and the surrounding hard-hit communities. Thankfully, no lives were lost. As a result of the hurricane, a tight banana supply from these regions emerged. In December, to meet the needs of our customers and deal with higher cost of fruit production and procurement, we declared force majeure and implemented a surcharge per box to our North American banana contract prices.

These surcharge remains in place today. Collectively, these factors hampered our 2020 fourth-quarter financial performance. Net sales were $1 billion, in line with the fourth quarter of 2019. We reported adjusted gross profit of $49 million, compared with $48 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, with gross profit margin improvements in our fresh and value-added product segment.

We also reported adjusted loss per diluted share of $0.08, compared with adjusted loss of $0.45 in the fourth quarter of 2019. Now, I would like to highlight a few of our accomplishments in 2020. During our third-quarter 2020 conference call, we announced $100 million asset sale optimization program to strengthen our balance sheet and free up cash flow. I am pleased to share with you that for 2020, primarily in the fourth quarter, we achieved 40% of our goal.

We are on track to complete the most of the program in 2021. Last year, at this time, I shared with you that we embarked on a five-year plan to transform Fresh Del Monte. You may recall the key elements of our transformation were: protect and grow the core business; drive innovation and expansion growth on value-added growth categories; evolve our culture to increase employee engagement and productivity; become a technology-driven company to drive efficiencies; become a consumer-driven company, and last, but not the least, sustainability; waste less for a better world tomorrow. Today, even in the face of a year-long pandemic, we are a different company than we were a year ago.

In the U.S., we depicted our newest product, the Pinkglow pineapple, a novel variety with a pink flesh. We recently announced a partnership with Queensland University of Technology in Australia to develop new varieties of disease-resistant bananas. The research partnership will focus on utilizing breakthrough in plant trade developments to calculate bananas that are less susceptible to crop-threatening diseases. We completed the move to our new Gonzales, California facility.

Today, our three Mann Packing facilities and Fresno fresh-cut fruit facility are operating under one roof which we anticipate will enable us to improve gross profit in our fresh and value-added products segment by approximately $10 million on an annual basis, a benefit which we expect to achieve in 2021. We opened a new state-of-the-art distribution, a fresh-cut facility in Yokohama, Japan. We accelerated the 1-year anniversary of our new avocado packing facility in Mexico which has further strengthened our competitive position. We continue to expand our global customer supply partnerships as they play important roles in the value-added product diversification strategy for our distribution channels.

We welcome four of our six new container vessels. In addition to the lower carbon footprint, our new ships enabled us to offer a more convenient and competitive commercial cargo program to third-party customers and trade lanes served by these new vessels. We made capital investments in technology and automation to become a more efficient producer, implemented SAP in some of our facilities, we launched e-commerce platforms in Dubai and Doha and we are focused on further expansion of our diversification strategy. We opened our first North America food and beverage store, named Fresh Street in December in Coral Gables, bringing our products closer to our ultimate consumers.

In October, we published an update to our 2018-'19 corporate social responsibility report, demonstrating our continuous commitment to deliver on sustainability and social responsibility objectives. This can be measured through numerous awards and accolades we received in 2020, such as the PR Daily award from Green and Environmental Stewardship and numerous social responsibility awards for COVID-19 pandemic relief such as the Guatemala 2020 President's Award for COVID-19 support and the 2020 Hunger Relief Champion, to name just a few. And our team members, our most important assets, during the pandemic, they showed resilience, focus and attention to details to continue to operate within the highest standards of quality and efficiency. They have my heartfelt respect and full appreciation.

As we move forward in 2021, we will continue to advance our five-year strategic transformation to deliver stronger long-term shareholder value. We remain firmly committed to prudently growing the company, improving our operational efficiency, expanding in new geographies, developing innovative new value-added products and adding more opportunities for direct-to-consumer engagements to respond to the shift in delivery channels driven by a trend toward stay-at-home economy. Thank you for joining us today, and I will turn the call to Eduardo to talk about financial results. Eduardo, please?

Eduardo Bezerra -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Mohammad, and good morning. Despite the COVID-19 disruptions during the full year and the impact of hurricanes Eta and Iota in our Central America operations in the fourth quarter of 2020, we achieved net income per diluted share of $1.03 versus net income per diluted share of $1.37 in the full year of 2019. Excluding, among other things, the effect of other product-related charges which resulted in a $34 million gross profit impact related to charges attributable to our fresh and value-added and banana products segments and the $22 million gain on disposal of properties, we delivered adjusted net income per diluted share of $1.15, compared with adjusted net income per diluted share of $1.12 for the full-year 2019. Additionally, despite the headwinds of the COVID-19 pandemic and hurricanes, we generated $181 million in operating cash flow during the year; we reinvested $150 million in capital projects; returned $35 million to our shareholders through dividends and share buybacks; and reduced our long-term debt by $45 million compared to the end of 2019.

As Mohammad mentioned, we made excellent progress with our asset sales optimization program, completing $40 million of the $100 million objective in 2020. I'll now get into the results for the fourth-quarter and full-year 2020. In regards to the product line, I will update you on fourth-quarter numbers. For the full-year 2020, net sales were $4.2 billion, compared with $4.5 billion in 2019, with unfavorable exchange rates negatively impacting net sales by $16 million.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted net sales during the year by an estimated $304 million. Partially offsetting the decrease in overall net sales was our fiscal year cycle which consisted of a 53-week year for fiscal 2020, as compared to a 52-week year for fiscal 2019, resulting an estimated $72 million increase in net sales. Adjusted gross profit was $284 million, compared with $318 million in 2019. However, I would like to point out that if you apply the adjusted gross profit margin of 6.5% to the $304 million of net sales impacted by COVID-19, we estimate that we would have delivered an additional $21 million in adjusted gross profit.

Adjusted operating income for the year was $89 million, compared with $113 million in the prior year and adjusted net income was $55 million, in line with the prior-year period in 2019. For the full-year 2020, net sales in our fresh and value-added business segments decreased by $220 million to $2.5 billion, compared to the prior year, primarily as a result of lower net sales in our fresh-cut vegetables, fresh-cut fruit, avocados, vegetables, melons, prepared food products, and tomato product lines, partially offset by higher net sales in our nontropical fruit and pineapple product lines. As compared with our full-year 2019 performance for this segment, the COVID-19 pandemic affected our net sales of fresh and value-added products by an estimated $243 million during the year, driven by reduced demand in our foodservice channel and shifting demand at retail due to the pandemic. Also, the continuing effect of the November 2019 impacting voluntary product recall affected our net sales in the full-year of 2020.

Our gross profit decreased $35 million to $158 million. Other product-related charges represented $25 million for the segment, primarily related to inventory write-off of pineapples and fresh-cut vegetables as a result of volatile supply and demand conditions, as well as, additional cleaning and social distancing protocols associated with the pandemic, along with inventory write-offs resulting from damages to our melon operations in Guatemala due to hurricanes Eta and Iota in the fourth quarter of 2020. For the full year, net sales in our banana business segment decreased by $53 million to $1.6 billion, compared to the prior year as a result of lower net sales in North America and Europe, partially offset by higher net sales in the Middle East and Asia. As compared with our full-year 2019 performance for this segment, the COVID-19 pandemic affected our net sales of bananas by an estimated $60 million.

Gross profit decreased $20 million to $84 million, primarily due to lower selling prices and sales volumes. Other product-related charges represented $8 million for the segment, primarily related to inventory write-offs as a result of damages to our banana operations in Guatemala due to hurricanes Eta and Iota during the fourth quarter of 2020, along with the volatile supply and demand conditions caused by COVID-19 pandemic, as well as, incremental costs incurred for cleaning and social distancing protocols associated with the pandemic. The company collected approximately $3 million in insurance recoveries associated with the storms which is included in other product-related charges. For the fourth quarter of 2020, adjusted loss per diluted share was $0.08 a share, compared with adjusted loss of $0.45 a share in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Net sales decreased by $23 million to $1 billion in comparison to the prior-year period in 2019, with unfavorable exchange rates negatively affecting net sales by $2 million. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted net sales during the quarter by an estimated $71 million as compared with our fourth quarter of 2019 performance. Partially offsetting the decrease in net sales for the fourth quarter of 2020 was an additional week in November 2020. So when compared 14 weeks versus our regular 13 weeks of sales, we estimate an increase in fourth-quarter 2020 net sales of $72 million.

Adjusted gross profit was $49 million, compared with adjusted gross profit of $48 million in the fourth quarter of 2019. However, I would like to point out that if we apply the adjusted gross profit margin of 3.9% to the $71 million of net sales impacted by COVID-19, we estimate that we would have delivered an additional $3 million in adjusted gross profit. Adjusted operating loss for the quarter was $5 million, compared with an adjusted operating loss of $6 million in the prior year. And adjusted net loss for the quarter was $4 million, compared with an adjusted net loss of $21 million in the fourth quarter of 2019.

In our fresh and value-added business segment for the fourth quarter of 2020, net sales were $586 million, compared with $597 million in the prior-year period, primarily attributable to lower sales volume in our melon, vegetables, fresh-cut fruit, and prepared food product lines, partially offset by higher net sales in our pineapple, fresh-cut vegetables and nontropical fruit lines. We have estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted net sales in the fresh and value-added product segments during the fourth quarter of 2020 by an estimated $49 million, as compared with the fourth quarter of 2019 performance. The estimated impact in net sales is attributable to reduced demand in the company's foodservice business and shifting demand at retail as a result of continued government-imposed mandatory restrictions and social distancing initiatives associated with the pandemic. Partially offsetting the decrease in overall net sales was the impact of an additional week in the fourth quarter of 2020 which contributed an estimated $42 million increase in net sales.

Gross profit increased to $25 million, compared with $21 million in the fourth quarter of 2019. Other product-related charges represented $6.8 million for the segment, primarily related to inventory write-offs of pineapples, fresh-cut vegetables due to volatile supply and demand conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as, $4.4 million in inventory write-offs, resulting from damages to our melon operations in Guatemala due to hurricanes Eta and Iota. In our pineapple category, net sales were $127 million compared to $115 million in the prior-year period, primarily due to higher sales volume and selling prices in Asia, Europe and Middle East. Overall, volume increased 9%, unit price increased 1%, and unit cost decreased 1%.

In our fresh-cut fruit category, net sales were $110 million, compared with $116 million in the prior-year period, primarily due to decreased demand in North America and the Middle East as a result of the continued impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the shortage of raw materials. The decrease was partially offset by higher net sales in Europe and Asia. Overall, volume decreased 6%, unit pricing increased 1% and unit cost increased 5%. In our fresh-cut vegetable category, net sales were $99 million, compared with $96 million in the fourth quarter of 2019.

The increase was primarily due to higher selling prices in North America. Volume decreased 3%, unit pricing increased 6%, and unit cost decreased 2%. In our avocado category, net sales were $69 million, in line with the fourth quarter of 2019, supported by higher sales volume as a result of increased customer demand. Volume increased 22%; pricing decreased 19%; and unit cost decreased 22%.

Our Mexico packing facility and changes in how we procure avocados continue to drive lower cost and improvement in margins in this product line. In our vegetables category, net sales were $40 million, compared with $47 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, primarily due to lower sales volume as a result of the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, partially offset by higher selling prices. Volume decreased 17%, unit pricing increased 2%, and unit cost increased 16%. In our nontropical category which includes our grape, berry, apple, citrus, pear, peach, plum, nectarine, cherry, and kiwi product lines, net sales increased to $35 million compared with $33 million in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Volume increased 11%, unit prices decreased 5%, and unit cost increased 8%. In our prepared food category which includes our traditional canned products and meals and snacks product lines, net sales for the fourth quarter decreased 5%, compared with the fourth quarter of 2019. The decrease was primarily due to lower sales in our meals and snacks product line due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the continued impact of the 2019 product recall and product rationalization efforts in our Mann Packing operations in North America which resulted in the discontinuance of lower-margin products. The decrease was partially offset by increased per unit sales prices of canned pineapple products, higher per unit sales of canned nontropical fruit due to improved customer demand and higher per unit selling prices of pineapple-concentrate products due to lower industry supply.

In our banana business segment, net sales were $384 million compared with $399 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, primarily due to lower sales volume and selling prices in Europe, partially offset by higher net sales in North America and Asia. We have estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted net sales in the banana segment during the fourth quarter by an estimated $22 million, as compared with the fourth quarter of 2019 performance for the segment. The estimated impact in net sales attributable to reduced demand in the company's foodservice business and shifting demand at retail as a result of continued government-imposed mandatory restrictions and social distancing initiatives associated with the pandemic. Partially offsetting the decrease in overall net sales was the impact of an additional week in the fourth quarter of 2020 which contributed an estimated $28 million increase in net sales.

Overall, volume decreased 3%, compared with last year's fourth quarter. Worldwide pricing decreased 1% over the prior-year period, worldwide banana unit cost was in line with the prior-year period, and gross profit was $10 million, compared to $14 million in the fourth quarter of 2019. Other product-related charges represented $6 million for the segment, primarily related to inventory write-offs as a result of damages to our banana operations in Guatemala due to hurricanes Eta and Iota during the fourth quarter. We have collected approximately $3 million in insurance recoveries associated with the storms.

Now moving to selected financial data. Selling, general, and administrative expenses were $196 million for the full year, $5 million lower than 2019 due to several contingency measures applied in 2020, including travel restrictions due to COVID-19 impact. During the quarter, selling, general, and administrative expenses were $54 million, compared with $51 million in the fourth quarter of 2019. The foreign currency impact at the gross profit level for the full year was unfavorable by $11 million, with the same impact at the gross profit level for the fourth quarter was unfavorable by $900,000.

For the full year, interest expense decreased $4 million to $21 million, compared with $25 million in the fourth quarter of 2019. Interest expense, net for the fourth quarter, was $5 million, in line with the fourth quarter of 2019. During the fourth quarter, income tax benefit was $4 million during the quarter compared with income tax expense of $1 million in the prior year, primarily due to reduced earnings in certain higher tax jurisdictions, in conjunction with a benefit resulting from the restructuring of our European operations, as well as, benefit associated with the Cares Act in North America. For the full year, our net cash provided by operating activities was $181 million compared with net cash provided by operating activities of $169 million in the same period of 2019.

The increase in cash provided by operating activities in 2020 compared to 2019 was principally attributable to higher balances of accounts payable and accrued expenses and lower levels of inventory, principally due to our optimization efforts associated with improving working capital usage. Partially offsetting this increase was lower net income in 2020, compared with 2019 and higher levels of prepaid expenses and other current assets. Net cash used in investing activities was $109 million for 2020 compared with $52 million for 2019. Net cash used in investing activities for 2020 consisted of $150 million in capital expenditures, partially offset by $40 million in proceeds from sales of property, plant and equipment, while net cash used in investing activities for 2019 consisted of $122 million in capital expenditures, partially offset by $69 million in proceeds from sales of property, plant and equipment, net.

As this relates to capital spending, we invested $150 million in 2020 with a significant portion related to the acquisition of four refrigerated container vessels. Our total debt decreased from $587 million at the end of 2019 to $542 million at the end of 2020. As announced this morning in our financial results press release, our board of directors declared a cash dividend of $0.10 per share payable on April 2, 2021, to shareholders of record on March 10th, 2021. This concludes our financial review.

We can now turn the call over for Q&A.

Questions & Answers:


Operator

[Operator instructions] Your first question today comes from the line of Jonathan Feeney with Consumer Edge. Please proceed with your question.

Jonathan Feeney -- Consumer Edge -- Analyst

Good morning and thank you. You itemized a number of headwinds. You had some uninsured losses from hurricane, you told us $21 million in adjusted gross profit for COVID and maybe not a headwind, but a coming tailwind, maybe you made some significant investments in streamlining your cost structure, particularly, with the West Coast Mann Packing operations consolidation. So I'm trying to understand how much all of that affects 2021? Maybe if you could take those three line items in whatever detail you can be comfortable giving us.

I know you gave us very helpful detail about what the impacts were for '20. I'm trying to understand how much comes back in '21, just so I can understand if you annual run rate at a normal basis, where we're thinking about for modeling. Thank you.

Eduardo Bezerra -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

OK. Thank you, Jonathan. So let me give you some color about that, right? So we've spoken about the backlog on the part that we do not expect to happen in 2021, although we may see some impact in our cost because we're going to need to source from different sources, mainly Ecuador that has not only a higher cost, but also from a logistics standpoint, on ocean freight that's going to be higher. And from a capital standpoint, we're going to need to rebuild a lot of the infrastructure that was damaged in those areas.

So that's the first one. The second one, so we did, as you mentioned, and we are very proud of all the different actions we took in 2020 to streamline our cost structure, so we took a lot of measures to improve our asset utilization and so we do expect that to bring improvement. We anticipate, and we share the $10 million just by consolidating the operations of four different units at our new Gonzales unit. They are in Mann Packing.

But also, we do expect to recover the sales that were impacted in 2020, not only because of foodservice, but also because of the product recall. Of course, that will happen throughout the year, right, because some of the -- of this volume has been shifted to other suppliers, and it takes some time for you to recover that, but we do expect that as a significant contribution. And the third one, I would say that as we look into our operations in different geographies, we do expect by simplifying our cost structure to see an improvement as part of these overall optimization in Middle East, in Asia, as well as, in our operations in CCAB and South America. So those are the three main areas that I would like to highlight there, Jonathan.

Jonathan Feeney -- Consumer Edge -- Analyst

So it sounds like -- I mean in the -- you mentioned capital expense, just I'm super clear on that. That's not an earnings factor, right, for -- you just couldn't need some capital expense for repairs, basically, that's so much earnings. Then you talked about --

Eduardo Bezerra -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. That was mainly in the hurricanes that we had in Guatemala. That's not -- let's keep in mind that we still have two vessels that we're going to receive in 2021. So there'll be some capital associated with that as well, but we anticipate lower capital investments in 2021 as compared to 2020.

But in terms of earnings improvement, as I mentioned, the actions that we took in Mann Packing, as well as, optimizing our business around the world, we do expect a reduction in our running rate of cost of doing business.

Jonathan Feeney -- Consumer Edge -- Analyst

So just so I understood, clearly, what I understood, $10 million or so in that kind of savings? And if magically, magically, retroactive to January 1st, there was no COVID, we went back to normal levels of behavior, let's just say, we're back to the kind of demand we had in, say, January, February 2020 across the world, all of a sudden, just hypothetically, where that would be a $20 million -- in your estimation, because you gave us a $21 million number, that would also be a $21 million tailwind for your business, all things equal. Is that correct?

Eduardo Bezerra -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. That's uh -- that is correct and that's tied to $300 million of net sales that we had the impact. The challenge is always how long it's going to take to really see COVID.

Jonathan Feeney -- Consumer Edge -- Analyst

Of course, of course.

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

I would like to add to this, Jonathan, is that the recall of Mann was at the end of 2019 which was about November -- sometime in November 2019. And that was a big drawback for us going into 2020. And right after we came into 2020, we were hit with the COVID, so imagine, it's like a double whammy, you have the recall in the first place and then you've got the COVID to make it even worse.

Jonathan Feeney -- Consumer Edge -- Analyst

Yeah, of course.

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

So all the foodservice business almost gone overnight and the only -- we were left with retail, mainly. And retail, of course, as because of the recall, we had so much business that was, unfortunately, stopped by the retailers. So we gained some of this business during 2020 in terms of retail business. We have -- we are seeing now some back, some life and activity in the foodservice.

It's coming back. Not as much as we hope, but at least we see life coming back into the foodservice business. So we are very optimistic and really encouraged that hopefully, by April, May that the normality comes back to the market in terms of foodservice and opening up restaurants and hotels and the whole sector. So we are very confident about really going into the future.

I have no doubt. And don't forget that moving four facilities into one during the COVID period with so many suppliers and so many new machines and so many technicians that they have to come, it was like mission impossible. But thanks to god and thanks to our people, really we have made an unbelievable achievement by putting up everything, and as we speak today, it was completely achieved. And now, it's fully operational with one unit rather than four different units.

So you can see what would be the operational efficiencies and the -- by consolidating all this together. I mean it will be significant.

Jonathan Feeney -- Consumer Edge -- Analyst

Thank you. That -- that's really, really helpful. Just one more question for me. You're 40% of the way through your asset sale program.

Are you happy with the prices you're getting? I mean, we see the gains, so the accountants are happy, but are -- relative to what you understood to be the values here, are you happy with these values? Are they going up with the -- seems like the asset prices and everything else in the world right now? And how long do you think it will take you to be finished with that?

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

I'll give you an example, just to give you an example, for instance. We had a piece of land that I bought in the -- in late '18 in Chile, north of Chile, about 22 hectares that cost us about probably at the time when we bought that property, it was like $300,000, $400,000, I remember. And we sold it last year -- the end of last year at a $12 million price back. So just to give you an idea of what kind of assets that we have and what kind of valuations we have.

I don't need to go with the rest, but yes, we have very valued -- and that's by piece of land, by the way, was sitting idled. We didn't cultivate it with anything. It was just sitting there and unutilized.

Jonathan Feeney -- Consumer Edge -- Analyst

Wow. Thank you. Well, it sounds like you are happy with it. I appreciate it.

Thanks so much and great work, and we'll talk soon.

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Jonathan.

Operator

[Operator instructions] Your next question comes from the line of Mitch Pinheiro with -- I'm sorry, there is no company name. Please proceed with your question.

Mitch Pinheiro -- Sturdivant & Co. -- Analyst

Hi, there.

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Mitch.

Mitch Pinheiro -- Sturdivant & Co. -- Analyst

Can you hear me?

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes.

Mitch Pinheiro -- Sturdivant & Co. -- Analyst

Hi. So, just following up on Jon's last question. Is -- in terms of the asset sales, is it -- could it be mostly -- I guess, it's land, correct? Is that what you're selling?

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

No. That's -- some of it is land, some of it are facilities that we really are under -- either not utilized or underutilized to the point that it doesn't make sense to keep it. And what we do is consolidate that business into another facility where we optimize and maximize efficiencies. So it is a mix of land and facilities that are underutilized or not utilized at all.

Mitch Pinheiro -- Sturdivant & Co. -- Analyst

OK. Just -- if you look at the banana business, so as we're looking here really short term, you still have force majeure in place, I guess, in the United States. And so are we going to see -- are you able to fulfill volume at this point? I mean we're getting close to that. We're almost two-thirds of the way down the first quarter.

Are we going to expect like a volume decline perhaps in the banana business in the United States or North America? And then how does that balance against the pricing you can get? And are we going to see normal gross margins in North America? Or anything you can talk about would be helpful.

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

As far as bananas, I don't believe that the prices are going to move from where we are today. We are under so much pressure as banana producer in terms of cost and procurement and, as well as, much as the damages we have been facing in our producing areas, as well as, just as close, I mean, as we -- last week, I mean, we had so much disruptions in our operations in Texas and other areas in the Northeast because of the storms and the ice and the -- so that also added -- that all adds to the additional costs and disruptions that we have, be it in bananas or other products. So I don't see any movement on the banana pricing going forward, at least, in the near-term future or even in the midterm. That's as far as bananas.

As far as the other business, I believe that as we go forward in the year with the vaccinations that are taking place with the decline in the rate of infections and so I'm very optimistic, and I'm very hopeful that by -- hopefully, by June, we can see a much more relaxed and much more kind of back to normal life in North America and the other parts of the world. I mean just to give you an idea, just -- we have been hit hard in MENA, in the Middle East and Asia with bananas because the Iran market was closed for almost now two years and that market used to import and consume huge amounts of bananas. What I'm saying, probably a couple of million boxes a month or more, and just recently, as of last week, they decided to open the market again for banana imports. And that has already given a big push in prices and that would relieve the pressure on Asia, as well as, MENA with volumes which will be going to Iran.

And already, we saw the spot market in the Philippine shooting by at least $3, $4 additional in terms of pricing. So we're -- I'm very confident and hopeful going forward, I see the market is changing. Yes, we have two years of very difficult environment in several fronts, but as we go into '21, I'm really full of confidence about the future.

Mitch Pinheiro -- Sturdivant & Co. -- Analyst

And in Europe, you've done better in Europe than I would have thought just watching the pricing -- stock pricing -- banana pricing in Europe is down -- it seem down a lot and you look at your business in the quarter and it hold up very well. Is -- are you doing something differently in the European market as it relates to bananas?

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, we are. As a matter of fact, the way that we sell our bananas, we have structural changes in terms of having long-term contracts rather than just depending on the spot market. So we are kind of mitigating the risks which helped us in achieving better results and, as well as, sourcing from different countries that can support the European market. So it's several factors, but I believe that going forward, as I said, for the other markets, Europe, as well, will be normalized and will be a lot more kind of consistent than in the past.

Aside from that, Europe is also diversifying their product lines, and they have done extremely well in introducing new fruit lines and they are a bit and they're really achieving very good results as well. So, all in all, Europe is doing quite well as well.

Mitch Pinheiro -- Sturdivant & Co. -- Analyst

And then I'm not sure really, you know, when we look at this -- reading about all the -- in Europe and wanting to provide -- sort of requesting banana producers to have sort of have fair trade certified bananas. How does that -- and then obviously, not wanting to pay for that is sort of the issue, but how do you guys think about fair trade pricing as it relates to your business and as it relates to the broader market?

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Well, everybody is affected in the same way. All the banana players, all the banana operators have the same issues and same challenges. Fair trade is a big kind of word and very, very elastic in terms of what do you mean by fair trade. And in the fair trade, retailers ask you for fair trade and all this.

And then, at the same time, when you come to negotiate with them, they want to strip you down and take it even below your cost. That doesn't work and that's something that we are refusing even to -- our biggest challenge in Europe right now is the MRL, which is a chemical that Europeans are going to prohibit by the end of this year. This is one of the -- and this chemical that we use which is safe because we use it in other parts of the world, is something that will affect the quality of the bananas [Inaudible] into trips like to Europe. So what is happening right now is the Banana Association -- here, I mean, is taking steps, hopefully, to be addressing this through the proper channels -- government channel and this is really our challenge.

Other than that, we -- in our business, we always face challenges, not daily, weekly, monthly, and it's a continuing process. So we need to be ready to meet these challenges and find solutions.

Mitch Pinheiro -- Sturdivant & Co. -- Analyst

OK. Just one last. Just -- I don't know if you mentioned it, but what are your capex plans for 2021 and approximately what you intend to spend?

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

As Eduardo mentioned, the capex we have is very clear. We have two ships that we still have to pay the balance for the value, these two ships. We have other projects that need to continue these projects that started a couple of years ago. And we have the maintenance and repairs which is normal every single year.

So what we are going to do is really rationalize our capital expenditures to the best of our abilities and not investing in any new projects that will entail heavy investments with long-term payback. That's the kind of policy that we are undertaking.

Mitch Pinheiro -- Sturdivant & Co. -- Analyst

And so approximately, what level of spending? Is it going to be -- you did $150 million this year, $122 million in the year prior, where do you expect it to fall this year, relatively speaking?

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

We -- we do not -- you know, as far as we are concerned here, we -- that's the figure that they have already -- the units delivered to you at the beginning of the year. As we go forward in the year, we always fine-tune this and prioritize as well and try to only approve the -- really what is really needed and what is really essential. So as we go forward, I mean, by the second quarter, I would be able to give you a better picture how the year would shape and how we would look, but we are -- we are on top of that and it's not like open checkbook.

Mitch Pinheiro -- Sturdivant & Co. -- Analyst

OK. Thank you.

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

And there are no further questions at this time. I turn the call back to Mr. Abu-Ghazaleh for closing remarks.

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

I would like to thank everybody for joining us today. And hopefully, I'm more confident for next quarter to be a very bright, you know, for everybody, better days and happier days doubling in the next few months. Thank you very much, and have a good day.

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 54 minutes

Call participants:

Christine Cannella -- Vice President, Investor Relations

Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Eduardo Bezerra -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Jonathan Feeney -- Consumer Edge -- Analyst

Mitch Pinheiro -- Sturdivant & Co. -- Analyst

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