Campbell Soup Co. reported a 67% year-on-year drop in third quarter earnings, as last year’s gain from the sale of the Godiva chocolate business outweighed margin gains during the three-month period.

Net earnings for the quarter ended 3 May totalled US$174m, or $0.49 per share, compared to $532m, or $1.40 per share, in the comparable period of last year.

However, excluding the Godiva sale and other items impacting comparability, adjusted net earnings totalled $171m in the current quarter. The result compared to adjusted net earnings of $165m in the prior year’s quarter, despite the negative impact of the stronger dollar.

President and CEO Douglas Conant said the company’s “strong” earnings growth could be attributed to pricing actions and ongoing productivity initiatives.

Conant dismissed analyst concerns over the negative impact of the group’s intensive marketing campaign and a general slowing of the soup category on profitability.

“Following increased spending in the first half to launch new products, we reduced marketing expenses, as planned, particularly in US soup,” he said.

“Despite softer sales in the quarter, year to date we’ve delivered one of the strongest US soup sales performances in years, with sales up 6%. Consumers continued to view soup as a simple, nourishing and affordable meal,” he insisted.

Campbell, which announced its results after the market closed yesterday (21 May), said it expected full-year earnings per share growth to exceed its 5-7% guidance.

The company reaffirmed its full-year sales growth outlook of between 3-4%, while EBIT is expected to fall slightly below its long-term target of 5-6%.