(Oct. 29) Chiquita is cutting jobs, closing plants and getting out of the fresh-cut fruit bowl business.

As part of a restructuring initiative announced Oct. 29, Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International Inc. said its plans to axe the line of fruit bowls it introduced in 2003 and instead will focus its fresh-cut efforts on value-added salads and snack packs.

“Over the last year or so, we introduced new products, like Chiquita Apple Bites, as healthy snacks,” said Chiquita spokesman Mike Mitchell. “Those have been much (more well) received by consumers and customers.”

In addition to its Apple Bites, Chiquita introduced single-serving bags of grapes, carrots and snap peas this summer in test markets.

Mitchell said Chiquita plans to honor its fruit bowl commitments to customers but will convert fresh-cut plants in Edgington, Ill., and Salinas, Calif., from fruit bowl production to snack pack and bagged salad production in the next few months.

The change should eliminate about 130 full-time jobs associated with Chiquita’s fruit bowl line. The company plans to eliminate more than 400 U.S. employees and 160 worldwide management positions as part of a restructuring expected to save the company $60 million to $80 million a year.

Chiquita’s stock jumped nearly 10% after the announcement to $18.73 in midday trading Oct. 29 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock’s 52-week low was $12.48 with a high of $19.92.

The company plans to report its third-quarter results during a Nov. 8 conference call, Mitchell said.

Chiquita already had announced some big changes before the Oct. 29 announcement. The company completed the sale of its fleet in June, and Salinas-based subsidiary Fresh Express LLC acquired Verdelli Farms Inc. in mid-October.

After the acquisition of Verdelli’s 165,000-square-foot facility in Harrisburg, Pa., Chiquita plans to close its production facility in Carrollton, Ga., and a smaller distribution facility in Greencastle, Pa. Those closings will affect about 280 workers.

“Fresh Express has clear market leadership in the country with a 47% market share, but it’s only 30% in the northeast,” Mitchell said. “By acquiring Verdelli Farms and the facility in Harrisburg, we’re able to improve the freshness delivered to customers by one to two days. We’ll be able to grow much more effectively in that region.”

Chiquita also plans to close its banana distribution facility in Bradenton, Fla., and plans to shift volume from that facility to its distribution facility in Port Everglades, Fla. Fifteen workers were affected by that closing.

Finally, Chiquita said in a news release that its plans to explore “strategic alternatives” for Bremen, Germany-based produce distributor Atlanta AG, including a possible sale. That subsidiary has more than $1 billion in annual revenues, primarily in Germany and Austria.

“Atlanta AG is a commodity distributor,” Mitchell said. “While it can be a good business for the right owner, we don’t see it as a strong fit for Chiquita. The area we’re growing in is value-added product rather than commodity distribution.”

Mitchell said Europe will remain a core market for bananas and the Chiquita brand.