Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, the premium chocolate retail franchisor and manufacturer, has reported a 19.4% increase in net earnings for the third quarter, compared to the same period last year, to US$1.33m, on sales 13.7% higher at $9.1m. Diluted earnings per share rose by 23.5% to $0.21.

Same-store sales at franchised retail outlets increased by 3.1% in the quarter, but same-store pounds of products purchased from the company's factory by franchisees fell by 1.5%. Sales of all franchised and company-owned stores increased by 14.9% to around $25.4m, the company said.

"We are very pleased with the recovery in earnings growth momentum during the most recent quarter," said chairman and CEO Frank Crail. "Our 23.5% improvement in third-quarter diluted earnings per share compared favourably with a 5.9% increase in the second quarter, which was penalised by unusually hot weather in many of our markets during the summer months. Comparable-store sales growth also resumed in the most recent quarter, and third-quarter revenues benefited from the shipment of an order to a major warehouse club customer that schedules a pre-Christmas promotion of our candies each year."

The company added that the expansion of the store network had also accelerated in the most recent quarter, with franchisees opening 12 new stores.

For the nine-month period, revenues increased by 13.5% to approximately $22.6m, with net earnings up 10.3% at $3.30m. Rocky Mountain reiterated its previous guidance for a 17% to 22% increase in full-year earnings for the year to the end of February, 2007.