CAMDEN, N.J. — Net earnings at the Campbell Soup Co. during the third quarter ended May 3 fell to $174 million, equal to 50c per share on the common stock, down from $532 million, or $1.43 per share, during the same quarter of the previous year. But excluding one-time items such as the sale of its Godiva Chocolatier brand, the company’s adjusted net earnings of $171 million, or 48c per share, rose nearly 4% compared with $165 million, or 43c per share, in earnings during the third quarter of fiscal 2008, topping analysts’ estimates of 42c per share.
Sales in the quarter were $1,686 million, down 10% compared with $1,880 million during the same quarter of the previous year.
"We delivered strong earnings growth this quarter," said Douglas R. Conant, president and chief executive officer. "Reflecting our previous pricing actions and ongoing productivity improvements, gross margin performance improved versus the prior year as expected. Following increased spending in the first half to launch new products, we reduced marketing expenses, as planned, particularly in U.S. soup."
The U.S. Soup, Sauces and Beverages unit had earnings of $195 million, up 13% from $172 million during the same quarter of the previous year. Sales for the segment were $808 million, roughly flat compared with $811 million during the same quarter of the previous year.
The Baking and Snacking segment posted income of $57 million compared with a loss of $92 million during the same quarter of the previous year. The most recent quarter included $1 million in costs related to a restructuring initiative, which compared with $144 million in costs during the third quarter of fiscal 2008. Sales in the segment were $431 million, down 14% from $502 million during the same quarter of the previous year.
The International Soup, Sauces and Beverages unit had income of $29 million, down 28% compared with $40 million during the same quarter of the previous year. Sales in the segment were $297 million, down 26% from $400 million.
"Despite softer sales in the quarter, year-to-date we’ve delivered one of the strongest U.S. soup sales performances in years with sales up 6%," Mr. Conant said. "Consumers continued to view soup as a simple, nourishing and affordable meal. In particular, condensed cooking soups provided strong growth as our value marketing message resonated with consumers."
For the nine months ended May 3, the company had net earnings of $667 million, equal to $1.88 per share, down 38% from $1,076 million, equal to $2.85 per share, during the same period of the previous year. Adjusted net earnings for the nine months were $686 million, or $1.90 per share, down from $701 million, or $1.82 per share. Sales for the nine months were $6,058 million, down 4% compared with $6,283 million during the same period of the previous year.
For the full year the company expects growth in adjusted net earnings per share to exceed the 5% to 7% range from the 2008 based of $2.09.