Chiquita Brands International’s net sales fell 10 percent, but it reversed a fourth-quarter loss and beat Wall Street’s earnings forecast in the process.

The results sent Chiquita’s stock (NYSE: CQB) up more than 20 percent, or $1.54, to $9.11 in Friday morning trading.

The company posted first-quarter net income of $23 million, or 51 cents per share, compared to $31 million, or 72 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter. In fourth-quarter 2008, it had a net loss of $412 million, or $9.28 per share.

Net sales fell to $842 million from $935 million in the year-ago quarter. Analysts, on average, had expected $910.4 million in sales, and 28 cents per share in earnings.

“Our first quarter was strong, especially considering the challenges we faced from currency and temporary flood-related costs,” said Fernando Aguirre, chairman and CEO, in the release.

Net sales for the banana segment fell 8 percent to $485 million year over year, while operating income dropped to $40 million from $61 million. Flooding in banana-growing areas of Panama and Costa Rica contributed to the decline.

The salads and healthy snacks segment saw net sales fall 16 percent to $281 million, while operating income grew to $13 million, versus $4 million in first-quarter 2008. The other produce segment had net sales of $75 million, up from $73 million the year before, and operating income fell to $2 million from $3 million.

Chiquita (NYSE: CQB), headquartered in Cincinnati, is a marketer and distributor of fresh and packaged produce in Europe and North America.

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