US dairy giant Dean Foods has posted a massive 78% rise in third-quarter net income, boosted by a one-off gain related to the July sale of its frozen whipped topping business.

The company reported net income of $122.2m, or 76 cents a share, compared with $68.7m, or 45 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

The results for the third quarter of 2003 include a gain of $40.3m, or 25 cents a share, from the sale of Morningstar Foods' frozen whipped topping business to Rich Products, reported Dow Jones Newswires.

Net sales increased 3.5% to $2.31bn from $2.23bn a year earlier, helped by price hikes designed to offset higher raw milk costs, as well as higher volume sales at Dean's White Wave soy foods unit.

Separately, Dean Foods said it had received a notice indicating that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may bring a civil action against the company.

The SEC claims that Dean Foods provided now-bankrupt grocery wholesaler Fleming with correspondence that allowed Fleming to categorise two payments, totalling $2.7m, from Dean as current income rather than deferred revenue, Dow Jones said.

Dean Foods said it intends to cooperate fully with the SEC's investigation.