US food group ConAgra Foods said acquisitions helped drive “stronger” top- and bottom-line growth in its first-quarter and insisted it will continue to look for M&A opportunities.

ConAgra yesterday (20 September) booked a rise in profits in the first quarter.

In the three months ended 26 August, earnings per share up by 177% to US$0.61 and by 42% to $0.44 on a comparable basis. Operating profit climbed 27.6% to $374.9m, while sales grew 6.7% to $3.31bn.

The company said the six acquisitions it has made in the last year, which include Bertolli and P.F. Chang’s, contributed eight points of sales growth in the first quarter and a “substantial contribution” to profit growth.

“These are helping drive stronger top line and bottom line performance,” said CEO Gary Rodkin. “These [transactions] are consistent with our Recipe for Growth that we’ve discussed before. That’s our strategic road map designed to continually strengthen our portfolio by finding new growth opportunities.”

Rodkin reiterated the company’s three strategic focus areas of expanding core adjacencies, growing its private label business and increasing its international presence.

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He added that the company will continue adding to its portfolio with “the same strategy and discipline as the right opportunities develop”.

CFO John Gehring said ConAgra will continue to pursue acquisition opportunities where, he said, “there is a strategic fit and a good financial return”.

“We are confident that we can further leverage our capabilities and our strong balance sheet to create value by investing for growth in a disciplined manner. We also remain focused on organic growth and profit enhancement investments, including investments to support innovation, production capacity and our cost savings initiatives.”

Of potential targets, however, CEO Rodkin said the company would not “just plant a lot of flags”.

“We’re going to build out from the infrastructure in places that we already have pretty good scale. It could be places like India with our JV, places like Mexico, and we can grow not just in those companies but from that geography. And certainly, on the Lamb Weston side, where we already have a very significant global footprint, we’re going to continue to grow as our customers continue with their aggressive plans to expand in emerging markets.”

ConAgra yesterday raised its full-year EPS guidance and now expects fiscal 2013 EPS, adjusted for items impacting comparability, to be in the range of $2.03 – $2.06, which it said includes a strong year-over-year increase in marketing investment.

“Overall, we’re excited about the start of the fiscal year, and we’re confident in our ability to deliver very attractive earnings growth for fiscal 2013,” Rodkin said.

Janney Capital Market analyst Jonathan Feeney said he believes ConAgra has “good visibility” tfor another year of “solid” growth.

“ConAgra’s roughly $6 billion in buying power could add as much as $0.54 in EPS over the next few years at current financing costs, by our calculations. ConAgra also has ample flexibility to return cash flow to shareholders, repurchasing 2.95m shares for $75m during Q1 and announcing a 4% annual dividend increase.”