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Toronto-based SunOpta, which includes natural, organic and specialty food operations among its activities, has reported a 54.6% rise in revenues for the first quarter to the end of March to US$133.31m from $86.22m in the first quarter of 2005.

SunOpta said its 34th consecutive of revenue growth was driven by a 52.5% increase in revenues within its vertically integrated natural and organic food operations. Revenue growth in the first quarter stemmed from an organic growth rate of 18.1%, and growth via acquisitions of 36.5%, the company said.

Operating earnings rose by 83.9% to $6.03m, driven by a 104% increase in operating earnings within the SunOpta Food Group. However, net earnings fell to $3.01m, or $0.053 per diluted common share, from $6.61m, or $0.116 per diluted common share, in 2005. However, the first quarter of 2005 was boosted by a net extraordinary gain related to the initial public offering of Opta Minerals Inc. Excluding the gain in 2005, first-quarter net earnings per share this year increased by 47.2%.

The company said that all operating segments within the SunOpta Food Group posted increased revenues and operating earnings. The strong results were driven by record aseptic soymilk sales, the strong rebound in sales of oat fibre, growth in private label fruit-based products and continued momentum and cost improvement in the Canadian distribution operations.

“I am extremely pleased with our continued growth and improvement in operating earnings in the quarter,” said SunOpta’s chairman and CEO Jeremy Kendall. “This improvement reflects the results of numerous initiatives which have been implemented, all focused on positioning SunOpta for sustainable growth and improved profitability. The company is a market leader in the key growth areas of organic, fibre-enriched foods, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and private label products, and we will continue to position the company for future growth in the healthy foods market segments.”