US food and consumer goods giant Sara Lee has reported lower quarterly earnings, hurt by weak sales of some apparel products.

The company reported net income of US$312m, or 39 cents a share, for the second quarter to 27 December, compared to $348m, or 42 cents a share, a year earlier.

Net sales for the second quarter were $5.0bn, up 5% compared to $4.8bn in the prior year's quarter.

The company said that during the second quarter sales benefited from favourable foreign currency exchange rates, particularly the strong euro, and growth in Sara Lee's meats, beverage and household products units.

"In the second quarter, Sara Lee delivered sales growth and we achieved our earnings expectations while continuing to generate very strong cash flow," said CEO C. Steven McMillan.

Sara Lee's meats business posted an 11% rise in net sales for the quarter, driven by higher net average selling prices in connection with increased raw material costs, favourable product mix and the impact of the strong euro.

In the company's bakery business net sales for the quarter increased 1% as strong sales for Sara Lee fresh breads and Sara Lee frozen retail baked goods, higher sales in the Spanish fresh bread division and favourable currency trends more than offset softness in the US regional fresh bread business and lower bakery foodservice sales.