A "drastic simplification" of Unilever UK will halve the senior management headcount by September and result in 350 job losses by the end of 2008.

The cuts will see the €2.5bn-sales UK operation streamlined from five divisions to two: food and home and personal care. And each division will be headed up by a marketing director, rather than a business director, as the 8,000-employee company looks to engage more effectively with supermarkets through better category management and execution.

Speaking exclusively to The Grocer, new chairman Dave Lewis said Unilever "needed to change more quickly and more radically than previous plans" for its reorganisation had suggested. In October 2008 Unilever will merge its Crawley, Walton and Kingston businesses into a single HQ near Leatherhead.

But effective from September, the 80-strong senior management team will be cut to 40, with the food division run by one marketing director (Paul Nevett, formerly business director of ambient) and Matt Close (who ran health and beauty) as marketing director of HPC. The other business directors Lysanne Gray (chilled), Jacqui Hill (homecare) and Anuj Lal (ice cream) are in talks about new positions within Unilever's global operations. HR director Gary Crouch will retire, to be replaced by Alan Walters.

"After we announced the move to Leatherhead in Spring 2006, we put the leadership team together and saw an improvement, getting back to growth after two years of non-performance," said Lewis. "But it was clear we needed to change more quickly to increase our competitiveness and reflect how and where Unilever adds value."

The UK operations will be focused more on the "go-to market" while brand development, advertising, transactional, financial and HR functions will be outsourced internally or externally.

"Before we'd have done all the brand management, but now we want to focus on the executional part of the marketing. I need to work out how to take great innovation and apply it to each retailer."

Category understanding and execution had improved "massively", said Lewis, with big wins from Boots, Asda and Tesco, but "the only way to achieve consistent excellence was a drastic simplification of the business."