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Chiquita Shares Leap; Firm to Slash Managerial Jobs

Chiquita Brands International said Monday it will cut 160 management jobs worldwide, close facilities and leave businesses as part of a plan to save $60 million to $80 million a year beginning next year.

The announcement sent Chiquita shares up more than 7 percent. They have ranged from $12.48 to $19.92 in the past 52 weeks.

The fruit company said it will take a $25 million charge this quarter.

"While we have already taken various actions to strengthen our balance sheet, improve our risk profile and diversify the company, we continue to endure rising industry costs, punitive European banana import regulations and a slower-than-expected recovery in the value-added salads category," Fernando Aguirre, chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

"Today's announcement indicates to us that management is serious about addressing its structural cost problem and pursuing much improved profitability," analyst Heather Jones of BB&T Capital Markets said in a note to investors. "That is what we have been looking for, as we believed it was imperative for sustained improvement at the company."

The company said the elimination of 160 management jobs, a 21 percent reduction at the three highest levels, will simplify an organizational structure that will be realigned by geography instead of product line.

Chiquita said it will close a distribution center in Greencastle, Pa., and a production facility in Carrollton, Ga., over the next several months as part of a reorganization of its salad business. The plants combined employ 280 workers.

Chiquita also said it will stop making fresh-cut fruit bowls and will convert plants in Edgington, Ill., and Salinas, Calif., to focus on producing and distributing salads and healthy snacks. The conversion will eliminate 130 jobs.

Chiquita also said it is exploring alternatives, including a possible sale, for its German fruit and vegetable distribution facility, Atlanta AG, and will close a banana distribution center in Bradenton, Fla., that will eliminate 15 jobs.

Chiquita is a leading international marketer and distributor of bananas and other fresh fruits and salads. The company employs about 25,000 people in more than 70 countries.