Dutch food and nutrition group Numico has reported group sales in the third quarter of 2002 of €928m (US$936m), a 6.1% decrease on Q3 2001 that the company attributed to a decline in US sales.

Group sales in the first nine months amounted to €3,056m, a decline of 4.1%. This performance was driven by a decline of 10.2% in US sales that was, to a large extent, offset by a 3.8% growth in Infant Nutrition and a 10.5% growth in Clinical Nutrition.

Gross margin during the quarter was 62.7%, an improvement of 50 basispoints (bps) compared to the same period last year. Numico attributed this to an improved product mix.

Total operating expenses during the quarter increased 1.8% to €509m. Increases in operating expenditure in Europe and Asia-Pacific were partially offset by declines in the US. Operating expenses in the first nine months grew by 5.7% to €1,625m. This increase in operating expenses was driven by wage increases and an increase in overhead costs.

EBITA in the quarter declined 11.9% to €118m, reflecting the lower performance of the US operations. This performance was affected by a positive exceptional item of €27m related to a vitamin claim settlement that was largely offset by provisions for legal claims. EBITA for the first nine months amounted to €355m, a decline of 28.9%.

Numico has announced that as part of its strategy changes, aimed at boosting profits, it intends to divest its underperforming US vitamin unit Rexall Sundown. The divestment of Rexall Sundown is expected to be completed in the course of 2003.

The company also aims to improve performance at its US nutritional supplement retail chain General Nutrition Companies by shifting from promotional pricing to market competitive pricing, improving its product mix, increasing marketing and maximising the benefits of the GNC Gold Card loyalty program.