An industry reorganization among Canada's largest dairy producers will see 346 people in Atlantic Canada laid off.

Agropur Dairy Cooperative and Saputo Inc., both based out of Quebec, will be laying off 128 full-time employees in the region and 218 part-time workers, beginning April 1.

That's when the two companies will begin realigning their sales and merchandising structure. Employees losing their jobs work in distribution depots and stock store shelves.

Retailers will now be taking on the responsibility for ordering dairy product and handling it once it is delivered to stores.

"It's the case in other regions of the country where retailers have the responsibility for ordering and merchandising our products," said Veronique Boileau, Agropur's vice-president of communications. "It's like that everywhere in Canada and we believe it was the right decision for our business."

Cutting costs

In all, Agropur is laying off 62 full-time and 97 part-time workers. Of those 159 jobs, 78 of them are in Nova Scotia, 57 in New Brunswick and 24 in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Saputo confirmed it is laying off 66 full-time and 121 part-time workers. It did not detail in what parts of Atlantic Canada those jobs will be lost.

Agropur made the decision to reduce its costs.

"It's true we look for efficiencies in what is a very highly competitive environment in Canada," said Boileau. "We are always focused on that for sure."

In 2015, Agropur made $5.9 billion in sales between its 38 plants across North America, according to its website. Its brands include Iogo, Natrel and Farmers, and it recently struck a deal to acquire Nova Scotia-headquartered Scotsburn. 

Saputo produces a range of dairy products, including cheeses and fluid milk.

Agropur said it will work with employees to provide them with a variety of support programs and an opportunity to apply for other positions at Agropur facilities. A Saputo official declined an interview.