Belgian retail group Delhaize has reported a 33.2% increased in third-quarter net earnings to €71.2m (US$92.1m) due to continued good sales momentum and improved margins.

"Our excellent third quarter report demonstrates the continued success of our focus on sustainable sales building initiatives and good operational management," said Pierre-Olivier Beckers, president and chief executive officer. "We are particularly pleased with the 1.7% comparable store sales growth and the margin increase in our US operations. Our Belgian operations increased sales and market share despite a difficult comparison to prior year."

In the third quarter of 2004, total sales decreased 3.2% to €4.5bn due to the weakening of the US dollar by 8.0% against the euro. At identical exchange rates, sales grew by 2.8%. Organic sales growth was 1.9% due to positive sales momentum at the company's US banners, resulting in a comparable store sales growth at Delhaize US of 1.7%, and continued sales growth at Delhaize Belgium.

Delhaize US contributed US$4.0bn to third-quarter sales. The company said it has reached an agreement to acquire a package of ten Winn-Dixie stores in North Carolina and Virginia.

Delhaize Belgium posted sales up 4.2% to €952.5m due to the expansion of the sales network by 22 stores compared to last year. Comparable store sales grew by 0.4% in Belgium, despite a strong year-ago performance when sales were boosted by the hot summer weather.

Delhaize said that as a result of its strong performance and its positive outlook for the remainder of the year, it now expects earnings before goodwill and exceptionals in 2004 to grow by approximately 10% at identical exchange rates. The company's previous guidance was for mid-single digit growth in 2004.