MOUNTAIN LAKES, N.J. — Net income at Pinnacle Foods Finance L.L.C. rose sharply to $20,252,000 in the first quarter of fiscal 2011 ended March 27, up from $3,930,000 in the same period a year ago. Earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT), meanwhile, rose 37% to $84,763,000 during the first quarter.

Net sales fell 8% to $606,311,000 from $656,436,000. Pinnacle said net sales in its North American retail businesses fell 5%, excluding the impact of the exited Birds Eye Steamfresh meals and U.S. Swanson meals businesses, as well as higher new distribution expense associated with the earlier launch of new products.
Pinnacle said EBIT in the Birds Eye Frozen division totaled $45,442,000 in the first quarter, up 55% from $29,411,000. Net sales in the division fell 9% to $294,246,000 from $324,400,000.

“The decrease is primarily attributable to lower volumes in our Aunt Jemima frozen breakfast products and our seafood products due to the timing of Lent and the Easter holiday, partially offset by strong performance in our Celeste Pizza brand,” Pinnacle said in a May 11 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Also contributing to the decrease was the decision to accelerate the launch of our innovative new products from July last year to January this year, which resulted in higher new distribution expenses.”

In the Duncan Hines Grocery division, EBIT was virtually flat, at $36,393,000 compared with $36,884,000. Net sales fell 5% to $214,147,000 from $226,140,000.

In the Specialty Foods division, EBIT was $8,349,000, up 53% from $5,458,000 in the same period a year ago. Net sales fell 8% to $97,918,000 from $105,896,000.