By Brian Fallow

WELLINGTON - Unilever New Zealand does not expect its Petone factory to be a casualty of the worldwide retrenchment plans its parent Unilever announced yesterday.

Unilever co-chairman Niall FitzGerald said the Anglo-Dutch group would cut 25,000 jobs - a tenth of its work force - over the next five years, close 100 plants and thin its portfolio of brands to 400 from 1600 now.

The Petone plant employs 250 people making Persil, Surf, Drive and Lux detergents, Aim toothpaste and Sunsilk shampoo. Unilever's Auckland-based food business relies entirely on imported product.

The national manager of Unilever New Zealand, Murray Papps, said: "We do not believe there is going to be any dramatic impact on our activities here. We have already put out house in order. There could be some rearrangement in the mix of products we make on this site [Petone] but I can't see that we will be totally exiting manufacturing."

Over the past 10 years Unilever has rationalised its manufacturing facilities across Australia and New Zealand to have each site focusing on what it does best and to avoid duplication, he said.

"We believe we are down to the base number of factories that we need. We are ahead of the rest of Unilever globally in this regard."

Yesterday's announcement set out the strategic intent and implementation details have yet to be worked out, Mr Papps said.

Mr FitzGerald said most of the 1200 brands to be "de-emphasised" would come from food categories, where profit growth has lagged behind the household and personal care segments of the business.

He expected the restructuring to cut costs by sterling 1 billion a year by 2004. Most of the job losses would be in Europe and the Americas.