ConAgra Foods profit rises on increase in commercial sales

ConAgra Foods Inc, the maker of Hunt's Ketchup and Chef's Boyardee pastas, on Thursday reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit and said its consumer foods business was recovering.

Net income rose to $484.5 million, or $1.12 per share, in the first quarter ended on Aug. 24 from $147.2 million, or 34 cents per share, a year earlier. The bulk of the increase came from discontinued operations.

Excluding special items, earnings from continuing operations were 39 cents per share. Analysts on average were expecting 35 cents.

Shares of ConAgra were up 2.8 percent at $32.90 in trading before the market opened.

Revenue dipped 0.4 percent to $3.7 billion as sales from the consumer foods segment, which includes brands like Orville Redenbacher's and Healthy Choice, declined 1 percent. But the company said the segment's performance had improved from recent quarters.

The sluggish sales come as the company announced last month that long-time Chief Executive Officer Gary Rodkin would retire in May, the end of the fiscal year.

Rodkin, who has headed ConAgra since 2005, has been under pressure from shareholders to fix problems resulting from the Omaha-based company's $5 billion acquisition of Ralcorp's private brand business in January 2013.

The Ralcorp acquisition made ConAgra the biggest U.S. private-label food company, but the business of selling food under supermarket brands has struggled to reach its targets. Sales in ConAgra's private brands segment declined 2 percent in the quarter.

The company, which also makes Slim Jim meat snacks and Banquet dinners, is focusing on healthier options such as low-fat meals to boost its consumer brands business.