Del Monte Foods has posted net income of US$169.9m for the 2006 financial year, compared to $117.9m last year, buoyed by an exceptionally profitable fourth quarter.

Fourth quarter net income jumped from $19.3m last year to $57.9m on the back of selling private label soup, infant feeding and food service soup businesses.

Full year earnings per share (EPS) stood at $0.83 compared to $0.56 last year, including a $0.05 gain on the sale. Net sales rose to $2.998bn from $2.899bn last year, an increase of 3.4%, driven primarily by increased net pricing and growth from new products, partially offset by elasticity.

Del Monte Foods chairman and CEO Richard Wolford said: "Our fiscal year and fourth quarter 2006 results reflect positive business performance as well as the achievement of significant strategic accomplishments.

"Our business performance delivered strong top and bottom line results. Pricing actions and new product introductions, both enabled by our strong brands, drove solid top-line growth."
Net sales for the group's fourth quarter increased to $799.2m compared to $774.4m in the comparable period last year, an increase of 3.2%.
 
The company said its outlook for the coming year depends on the progress of a transformation plan announced today, but increased its long-term net sales growth rate target to 3% to 5% and its long-term EPS growth rate target to 7% to 9%.

During fiscal 2007, the company expects sales growth of 14% to 16% over fiscal 2006, to be driven primarily by the acquisitions of Meow Mix and Milk-Bone. 

For the 2007 first quarter, sales growth of approximately 2% to 4% over net sales of $617 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2006 is expected.
 
Wolford added: "The progress we achieved in fiscal 2006, including the announcements of Meow Mix and Milk-Bone, combined with our transformation programme, are improving the overall financial and strategic outlook for Del Monte.

"Today, our leading brands are well positioned to capitalise on the primary consumer and pet trends driving the food industry. We are anticipating increased top and bottom-line momentum as a result. In fiscal 2008, the first year we realize the full impact of the acquisitions and the related synergies, we expect to be at the high-end of this increased range."