ConAgra income rises 5% in fiscal year

by Eric Schroeder
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OMAHA — A strong fourth-quarter performance from its Consumer Foods segment helped lift ConAgra Foods, Inc. to sales growth of 10%, operating profit growth of 15% and net income growth of 5% in the fiscal year ended May 31. The fiscal year had 53 weeks compared with 52 weeks in the year ended May 25, 2008.

Total sales of $12,731.2 million compared with $11,563.5 in the previous fiscal year. Operating profit of $1,540.1 million compared with $1,342.1 million in the previous fiscal year. Net income of $978.4 million, equal to $2.15 per share on the common stock, compared with $930.6 million, or $1.90 per share, in the previous fiscal year.

ConAgra estimated fiscal 2010 earnings per share of $1.63 to $1.66.

In the fourth quarter ended May 31, sales grew 8% to $3,298 million from $3,066.6 million and earnings per share from continuing operations increased 129% to 39c from 17c. The company said the extra week in this year’s fourth quarter contributed about 3c of e.p.s.

Fourth-quarter sales for Consumer Foods jumped 14% to $2,137.6 million from $1,877.8 million. Consumer Foods sales for the year were $8,031.3 million, up 8% from $7,435.4 million. Operating profit in the segment increased 53% to $270.5 million from $177.1 million in the fourth quarter and increased 15% to $956.5 million from $830.4 million in the fiscal year.

The frozen foods business within Consumer Foods produced double-digit sales growth in the fourth quarter behind the strength of such brands as Healthy Choice, Marie Callender’s and Banquet. Other brands posting double-digit sales growth in the quarter were Alexia, Hebrew National, Hunt’s, Orville Redenbacher’s, Peter Pan, Reddi-wip, and Snack Pack.

In the Commercial Foods segment, fourth-quarter sales dipped 2% to $1,160.4 million from $1,188.8 million, which reflected lower flour prices due to lower underlying wheat costs at ConAgra Mills. Fiscal-year sales rose 14% to $4,699.9 million from $4,128.1 million.

Fourth-quarter operating profit increased 35% to $155 million from $115 million. Lamb Weston reported strong sales, efficiency and mix. Better flour margins were due to plant efficiencies, mix and effective risk management at ConAgra Mills. Profits for Gilroy Foods and Flavors were down given the impact of the weak economy on food service customers. For the fiscal year, the Commercial Foods segment posted operating profit of $583.6 million, up 14% from $511.7 million.

During the fourth quarter, an accident occurred at the company’s Slim Jim manufacturing plant in Garner, N.C. ConAgra has relied on existing inventories of Slim Jim since the accident, but shipments have been at reduced levels. Service disruptions are likely during the first quarter of 2010, but the company expects to achieve acceptable service levels during the second quarter.

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