Conagra Brands, the US food group, today (23 March) said its annual underlying earnings could be higher than it had previously forecast – but cautioned its full-year sales could come in lower than it had expected.

The Chef Boyardee pasta and Hunt’s ketchup owner said it now expects its annual adjusted diluted earnings per share to be “at or slightly above” the high-end of a forecast range of $1.65 to $1.70 it had issued.

Conagra said its net sales, measured when excluding the impacts of disposals and foreign exchange, are expected to be “at or slightly below” the low-end of its forecast of a 4-5% decline.

President and CEO Sean Connolly said: “We are updating our full-year guidance to reflect the beneficial timing of certain costs and the softer near-term macro environment.”

Conagra’s revised forecasts came alongside the financial results for the third quarter and first nine months of its fiscal year.

In the quarter to 26 February, Conagra’s net sales fell 9.9% to $1.98bn, in part due to the offloading of assets and exchange rates. Stripping out those factors, net sales were down 4.8%, which Conagra insisted was “primarily as a result” of falling volumes “associated with the company’s actions to build a higher quality revenue base.”

Conagra’s said its income from continuing operations before income taxes and equity method investment earnings more than doubled from $96.4m to $225.6m due in part to higher “general corporate expense” a year earlier, which included restructuring costs.

The company’s total operating profit for segments rose 16% to $376.5m.

ConAgra booked a 12.7% fall in third-quarter net income to $179.7m.

Connolly said: “I am pleased with our ongoing progress in reshaping our portfolio, capabilities, and culture. Our disciplined focus on controlling costs and upgrading the quality of our revenue base are delivering the desired impact. We are also excited about our innovation line-up, which we expect to begin hitting stores this summer.”

For the first nine months of Conagra’s financial year, the company’s sales were down 9.8% at just short of $6bn.

Conagra’s income from continuing operations before income taxes and equity method investment earnings more than doubled from $320.4m to $655.8m. Its segment operating profit rose 10.9% to $1.07bn.

The group filed a net income of $488m, compared to a net loss of $794.6m a year ago, a result that was due to operations now discontinued.