Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Kraft to pare 6,000 jobs

The Associated Press

CHICAGO - Kraft Foods Inc. said Tuesday that it will eliminate 6,000 jobs, or 6 percent of its work force, and close 20 plants worldwide in the next three years as part of a restructuring that follows more than a year of disappointing sales and earnings for the biggest U.S. food company.

About 1,300 salaried positions in North America will be eliminated in the first quarter, with the remaining cuts occurring by 2007, said the maker of Oreo cookies, Jell-O desserts and Oscar Mayer hot dogs.

The moves were disclosed in Kraft's fourth-quarter earnings release Tuesday, which detailed the company's latest earnings disappointment: a 7 percent drop in profits from a year earlier, to $869 million, and a warning that 2004 earnings will also be lower than expected.

The job cuts have been expected since the Northfield, Ill.-based company shook up its top management last month and announced other changes after several quarters of sluggish sales, particularly for cookies and pizza.

Chief executive Roger Deromedi, who was given sole control of the company last month when co-CEO Betsy Holden was removed from that post and put in charge of global marketing, had signaled his intent to take Kraft in a different direction to try to snap out of the slump in sales and new products.

On Jan. 8, he reorganized Kraft's business units and said it would take a more global focus in a strategy aimed at making it more nimble. That move entailed shifting some units to new locations and giving top executives new roles. The job cuts associated with the shake-up were not disclosed until Tuesday.

Three plants to be closed initially include ones in Canton, N.Y.; Farmdale, Ohio, near Warren, and central Europe, the company said.

"While Kraft's fourth-quarter results were in line with our expectations, we clearly are not satisfied with our performance in the quarter or for the full year," Deromedi said. "The corrective actions we began in late 2003 are showing progress, and the stronger steps we are announcing today will get us back on track for sustainable growth."

The company anticipates that the restructuring will result in pretax charges of as much as $1.2 billion over the next three years and generate an estimated $400 million in annual savings by 2006.

Kraft has about 50,000 employees in the United States and slightly more than 100,000 worldwide.

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