US food processor Birds Eye Foods has announced a sharp rise in net income for its fiscal year 2004, boosted by lower interest expense as a result of the company's efforts to reduce outstanding debt levels.

The company, which produces frozen vegetables and other food products, said net income was US$31.9m for the year to 26 June 2004, compared to $20.8m in fiscal 2003.

Net sales for fiscal 2004 were approximately $843.4m, a decline of 2.3% compared to $863.0m in fiscal 2003. Part of the sales decline was attributed to a decrease in non-branded product sales due to continued efforts to rationalise certain product offerings.

In addition, the Birds Eye Voila! product line faced industry challenges last year which the company has addressed through a brand revitalisation, including the introduction of several reduced carbohydrate alternatives along with other new flavour offerings and reformulated varieties.

Net sales within the core Birds Eye branded frozen vegetable business remained strong, experiencing 3% growth compared to the prior year.

"Our industry has been and continues to be faced with challenges, including increases in costs for our ingredients, commodities and packaging as well as health care costs," said chairman, president and CEO Dennis Mullen.

"However, the improvements we have made in our debt structure over the last two years have allowed us to show growth in net income. We continue to focus our efforts in fiscal 2005 on product innovation and other growth initiatives to bring to our customers and consumers healthy, high quality, value-added products," Mullen added.