US food and agribusiness giant Bunge has reported a drop in quarterly profit, hit by weaknesses in its agribusiness unit.

The White Plains, New York-based company posted earnings of US$89m, or 88 cents a share, for the third quarter to 30 September, compared with $95m, or 95 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts had been expecting earnings of 76 cents a share, reported Reuters.

The company said results in its food product division strengthened, primarily due to its acquisition of France-based food and oilseed processor Cereol, acquired in October 2002, and margin improvements in its Brazilian edible oils business.

Sales volumes in Bunge's food products division rose 29%, while income from operations increased 43% to $30m, reflecting improved results in both the edible oil and milling and baking products segments.

"This quarter shows the value of the Cereol acquisition and our product balance. We were able to partially offset a very volatile operating environment in agribusiness with strong results in our fertilizer and edible oils businesses. Demand remains solid in all three of our divisions despite the short crop which affected North American agribusiness," said Alberto Weisser, Bunge's chairman and CEO.