ConAgra Profit Rises Amid Price Hikes

ConAgra Foods Inc. (CAG) Wednesday said quarterly profit from continuing operations rose 2.3 percent, boosted by higher prices and increased sales of products ranging from Parkay margarine to Orville Redenbacher's (search) popcorn.

The company also said it expected earnings for the second half of its fiscal year to be higher than year-earlier results, and the stock rose slightly.

The company, which has sold its meat-processing operations to focus on higher-profit packaged foods, also said cost-cutting measures and improved marketing helped offset higher costs of commodities like energy and food ingredients.

Profit from continuing operations was $243.3 million, or 47 cents a share, for the second quarter ended Nov. 28, said the maker of Healthy Choice (search) frozen meals and Chef Boyardee (search) pasta. That compares with $237.9 million, or 45 cents a share, a year earlier.

Analysts on average forecast profit of 46 cents a share.

Net income fell 10.3 percent to $242.3 million. Net earnings per share fell to 47 cents from 51 cents. The year-ago quarter includes results from the company's chicken-processing business, which was sold to Pilgrim's Pride Corp. last year.

Sales rose 8.2 percent to $4.12 billion.

Sales in its retail products business, which account for 60 percent of total sales, rose 9 percent to $2.5 billion, with 2 percentage points of the increase coming from higher prices.

The company also said it expected profit to rise in the second half of the fiscal year when compared with a year earlier.

ConAgra will post a $185 million pretax gain in the third quarter from its Dec. 13 sale of 10 million shares of Pilgrim's Pride.

ConAgra shares were up 15 cents at $27.85 on Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange (search).