Canadian food group George Weston said today (23 February) that profits in 2009 were "strong" compared to 2008 after a series of one-off items hit reported earnings.

The food processor, which also owns Canada's largest retailer Loblaw, booked earnings per share from continuing operations of $0.64 of 2009 compared to $4.65 in 2008.

George Weston said the decline was due to the gain it secured last year on the disposal of Neilson Dairy to Saputo - and a charge related to foreign exchange losses this year.

"Excluding these and other items ... the company's earnings performance in 2009 was strong compared to 2008," the company said.

Sales dipped 0.8% to C$31.82bn (US$30.11bn) as the group lapped a year that included a contribution from the offloaded dairy business and an extra selling week.

Operating income fell 15.8% to C$1.01bn as the foreign-exchange losses, and an impairment change at Weston Foods' biscuits, cookies, cones and wafers business, hit earnings.

As with earnings per share, George Weston said operating income in 2009 was "strong" compared to 2008, when the one-off items were stripped from the results.

Net earnings rose 24.1% to C$1.04.

"Weston Foods in 2010 will continue focusing on cost reduction initiatives and improving top-line sales performance," chairman and president Galen Weston said. "We continue to assess our strategic options for the re-deployment of the Company's substantial cash and short term investments".