"I'm Chiquita banana and I've come to say..."

Shareholders may not remember the jingle, but Chiquita Brands (NYSE:CQB) had something very good to say yesterday. The company reported net income of $7.9 million for the fourth quarter, after losing $26.3 million the same quarter last year. For the full year, net income surged from $13.2 million last year to $99.2 million. Oh, Chiquita! What performance!

Investors may remember the European Union banana import wars that essentially drove Chiquita into bankruptcy protection. Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) played the role of lead arranger out of bankruptcy, and the restructured company promised to lower its debt to under $400 million by 2005. On the strength of asset sales, Chiquita met that target two years ahead of schedule. Nice debt diet, Chiquita.

Bananas still pay the bills at Chiquita. In the fourth quarter, they accounted for 58% of sales, with produce picking up another 40%. Operating income from the yellow fruit totaled $21.8 million, while produce posted a $9.4 million loss. If anything gave investors pause yesterday, it was failure in the fresh produce segment.

Atlanta AG, a German produce distributor acquired in March 2003, contributed $260 million to fourth-quarter sales. Unfortunately, it did so at a loss, as Chiquita continued to restructure Atlanta's subsidiaries. Prior to its being acquired in a virtually cashless debt-for-equity swap, Atlanta was Chiquita's largest European customer. Near-term growth hinges on getting this operation profitable.

Management, meanwhile, continues to discuss asset sales even though debt is finally at manageable levels. Other goals include broadening product offerings, deriving 30% of revenue from new, higher-margins segments by 2007, and growing net income on average 15%, annually.

Yes, this one is a work in progress, but it is a profitable operation building off a manageable debt load. At 10 times earnings, it seems like a steal. At least, until you notice that Fresh Del Monte (NYSE:FDP) sells for six times earnings and has profit margins twice as high -- but that's one for another column.

At the same time, food stocks like Tyson (NYSE:TSN) and General Mills (NYSE:GIS) sell at 16 times earnings, and Kellogg (NYSE:K) goes for 20 times earnings. In that context, Chiquita, with its expected 15% profit growth, looks like a value play with a lot to sing about.

How does Chiquita stack up against fellow produce peddlers? Talk it out with fellow Fools on the Chiquita Brands discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

Motley Fool contributor W.D. Crotty own stock in Wells Fargo. You can email W.D.