Altria to Eliminate Most of John Middleton's Sales Force

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Altria to Eliminate Most of John Middleton's Sales Force

By Mehgan Belanger

RICHMOND, Va. -- CSNews Online has learned that Altria Group Inc., parent company to the nation's largest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA (PM USA), decided to eliminate most of the sales force of its recently purchased John Middleton Inc., maker of large cigars including the Black & Mild brand.

After receiving information from an anonymous source, CSNews Online confirmed the move with PM USA spokesman Bill Phelps.

"Starting this month, a variety of the John Middleton merchandising and promotional resources will be available through the PM USA sales organization," he told CSNews Online, explaining that in cases where retail and wholesale accounts are called on by both Middleton's and PM USA's sales force, those accounts will be transitioned to the team at PM USA.

"As part of that, most of the current sales force at Middleton will be
eliminated," he said.

Phelps declined to give a number or percentage of Middleton sale force
employees that would remain as a result of the transition.

However, he also told CSNews Online that Middleton employees whose positions are being eliminated will either have an opportunity to interview with the PM USA sales force for a position, or accept a severance package.

When the $2.9 billion acquisition was announced in early November 2007, CSNews Online reported that Middleton will continue to operate from its facilities in King of Prussia and Limerick, Pa., and that current president of John Middleton, Orrin Ridington Jr., will continue to lead the company's operations.

"We look forward to welcoming John Middleton Inc.'s talented employees to the Altria family and to building upon the company's strong growth track record," Michael E. Szymanczyk, chairman and CEO of PM USA, said in a statement when the purchase was announced. "While there may be some cost savings, captured predominantly through procurement synergies and the elimination of duplicative expenses, the real appeal of this acquisition is to capitalize on PM USA's sales, distribution and marketing infrastructure and expertise."