Dayville, Conn.-based food distributor United Natural Foods has reported net income of US$5.6m for the Q3 2002, or US$0.29 per share on a diluted basis, excluding special items, in line with the guidance previously provided.

Net sales for the Q3 2002, ended 30 April, totalled US$300.4m, a 16.2% increase year on year due primarily to increased sales throughout the company's divisions and including growth percentages in the mid-twenties in both the super natural and mass market distribution channels. Sales growth, excluding acquisitions, was 14.8%. Net sales for the nine months ended 30 April were US$866.1m, up 15.9% compared to US$747.1m in the prior year period. The nine-month sales growth, excluding acquisitions, was 14.9%.

Net income for the Q3 2002, excluding the effect of special items, was US$5.6m, or US$0.29 per diluted share, compared to US$4.1m, or US$0.22 per diluted share, for the Q3 2001. Including the effect of special items, net income for the Q3 2002 was US$5.3m, or US$0.27 per diluted share, compared to US$3.3m, or US$0.17 per diluted share.

The special items for the Q3 2002 consisted of moving and other costs related primarily to the startup of the company's southern California distribution facility and non-cash income related to the change in fair value of interest rate swaps and related option agreements. Special items for the Q3 2001 consisted of asset impairment, moving and other costs related to the expansion of the company's New Oxford, PA distribution facility.

CEO Michael Funk said: "We are pleased to report another quarter of strong operating results and continue to be on track with executing our business plan and growth objectives. Each of our operating units contributed to our growth with sales growth percentages in our supernatural and mass market distribution channels in the mid-twenties as a result of our focus on customer service, expanding our customer base and increasing our penetration with existing accounts."

"To meet the growing consumer demand for natural foods and related products we continue to expand and enhance our distribution network and, during the quarter, we completed the startup of our new distribution center in southern California. The Fontana facility will enable us to provide enhanced service levels to our southwestern customers, realise transportation savings and efficiencies and allow us to penetrate that market further."

Funk added, "Looking forward, we believe our sales growth for the Q4 2002 will continue in the 12% - 14% range. We expect net income, excluding special items, for the Q4 2002 to be about US$0.28 - US$0.30 per diluted share. Our guidance excludes special income or charges related to interest rate swaps."