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PITTSBURGH-HJ Heinz Co. plans to close 15 of the 91 manufacturing plants it currently operates worldwide. This is part of an ongoing cost-cutting plan by the locally based international food producer that included the earlier closing of operations in Zimbabwe. Another five plant closings may follow in fiscal 2008, said William R. Johnson, chairman, during a fiscal fourth-quarter conference call.

“Exiting these plants will further enhance productivity and drive significant cost savings,” Johnson said. He did not identify the plants to be shuttered, and their locations are not listed in the company’s SEC filings.

A Heinz spokesman tells GlobeSt.com, “the vast majority are outside the US. They vary in size and configuration, depending on what is produced in them.” Announcement of the locations “is premature.” Employees will be notified of the plant sales or divestitures within the next two to three months. Heinz has not yet enlisted anyone to market the properties, according to the spokesman, who says, “it is likely they will be sold.” Heinz has operations on all continents.

The overall cost-cutting plan that also calls for a reduction of 2,700 jobs, which represents 8% of the company’s work force, is designed to save $355 million. Profits for the quarter dropped 19% to $167.9 million, or 50 cents a share, down from $206.5 million, or 56 cents a share, compared with the same quarter a year ago. Quarterly revenue rose to $2.4 billion, up from slightly more than $2.2 billion.

The New York City-based Trian Group, which holds 5.4% of Heinz stock, filed a position paper with the SEC on May 23 detailing recommendations to improve shareholder value at Heinz. The group, led by Nelson Peltz, has nominated five of its principals to the Heinz board. Shareholders will vote for board members at the company’s Aug. 16 annual meeting.

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