ST. LOUIS — A $32.1 million impairment charge coupled with higher expenses dragged down net earnings at Ralcorp Holdings, Inc. during the third quarter of fiscal 2011. Net income in the period ended June 30 totaled $28.3 million, equal to 51c per share on the common stock, down 47% from $53 million, or 97c per share, in the same period a year ago.

Excluding special items, though, the company earned $1.15 per share, up from $1.11 per share in the same period of fiscal 2010. The impairment charge totaling $32.1 million was related to the Post Shredded Wheat and Grape Nuts trademarks based on reassessments triggered by the announced separation of Post Foods from Ralcorp. The impairment was due to reductions in anticipated future sales as a result of competition and a reallocation of advertising and promotion expenditures to higher-return brands, Ralcorp said.

Net sales in the third quarter rose 22% to $1,171.9 million from $962.4 million.

Profit contribution in the Branded Cereal Products segment totaled $54 million, down narrowly from $54.1 million in the same period a year ago. Net sales in the segment totaled $244.1 million, up 1% from $242.7 million.

“Volumes were down across most of the Post brand portfolio driven by reduced trade spending compared to the aggressive spending levels a year ago and competitive promotional activity,” Ralcorp said. “The reduction in trade spending is part of a continuing focus on more efficient trade program investments.”

In the company’s Other Cereal Products segment, profit contribution eased to $21.9 million from $22 million, while sales rose 10% to $217.1 million from $197.6 million.

“Net sales increased 10% fueled by strong volume growth for nutritional bars (up 12%) as well as volume improvement in both private brand ready-to-eat cereal (up 2%) and hot cereal (up 4%) due to promotional program results and reduced branded trade promotional activity,” Ralcorp said.

Third-quarter profit contribution in the Frozen Bakery Products segment climbed 23% to $21.5 million from $17.5 million. Net sales also were higher, rising 15% to $187.3 million from $162.2 million. Ralcorp attributed the sales improvement to volume gains for food service and retail products, incremental sales from the fiscal 2010 acquisition of Sepp’s Gourmet Foods, and higher pricing, partially offset by the effects of volume declines in the in-store bakery channel.

Profit contribution in the Pasta segment was $27.1 million on sales of $140.4 million. Ralcorp said sales were up 4% from last year (pre-acquisition) as a result of higher net selling prices, which more than offset a 5% overall volume decline.

Profit contribution in the Snacks, Sauces & Spreads segment fell 28% to $26 million from $35.9 million, while sales rose 6% to $383 million from $359.9 million. Ralcorp said profit in the segment was adversely affected by significantly higher raw material costs, including cashews, peanuts, tree nuts, oils, wheat and packaging.

Companywide for the nine months ended June 30, Ralcorp had net earnings of $182.9 million, or $3.33 per share, up 10% from $166.9 million, or $3.02 per share, in the first nine months of fiscal 2010. Nine-month net sales were $3,517.8 million, up 21% from $2,919.3 million.