ST. LOUIS -- Six months into what at least one observer called a "revolutionary" revamp of its pet foods field sales force, Ralston Purina said it would reduce that force by 125 individuals.
The reduction was announced on April 8, just 10 days after the company completed the spinoff of its cereal, baby food, coupon processing and ski resort businesses as a separate company, Ralcorp Holdings.
"This was a difficult decision made necessary by the changing retail environment," Elmer Richards, a Ralston Purina spokesman, told Brand Marketing. The downsizing comes during a "re-engineering" of the company's sales organization he said has been under way over the last six months. Like many companies, Ralston Purina has created multidisciplinary teams with the authority to make marketing business decisions.
The company has a kind of hybrid structure that combines several account-specific teams assigned exclusively to key accounts with others that are geographically deployed, Richards explained.
While the Ralcorp divestiture was pending, Ralston Purina volunteered little about its field force re-engineering beyond a reference made at the company's annual meeting in February, said Les Pugh, food industry analyst at Salomon Brothers, New York.
Pugh said he was "not surprised" to learn about the company's move to account teams. "You're not going to get the pace of change in retail channels that we are seeing without corresponding activity by the manufacturers."
At the February annual meeting, W. Patrick McGinnis, president and chief executive officer of Ralston's grocery products group, said the company had moved away from deep discount promotions and toward a more stable price and deal structure that does not force large inventory buildups.
The company also said it had begun to institute continuous replenishment programs, without providing details as to the scope of the effort.
Another industry observer said that Ralston Purina has weathered a difficult year in its pet food business and was moving "certainly directionally toward value pricing."
Richards did not provide further specifics about his company's advances in trade relations or CRP activities.