The Hershey Company today announced record sales and earnings from operations for the fourth quarter ended December 31, 2005. Consolidated net sales were US$1,352,873,000 compared with $1,267,963,000 for the fourth quarter of 2004, an increase of 6.7%.

Net income for the fourth quarter of 2005 was $172,847,000, or $.70 per share-diluted, compared with $167,116,000, or $.67 per share-diluted, for the comparable period of 2004.

In a statement the company said these results include total pre-tax charges of $17.6m, associated with the previously announced business realignment initiatives.

“Fourth-quarter results were solid with balanced performance in sales, operating margin, and profitability,” said Richard H. Lenny, chairman, president and CEO. “Sales growth for the quarter of 6.7% was driven by organic sales growth of nearly 4% from new products and strong seasonal shipments. Business acquisitions accounted for the additional growth. Hershey’s marketplace performance strengthened during the quarter as our takeaway within the US confectionery category increased by 7%, resulting in a 1.4 point gain in market share.

“EBIT margin from operations expanded as productivity programs more than offset higher costs. Sales growth and margin improvement, excluding the share-based compensation expense, delivered diluted earnings per share from operations of $.76, an increase of 11.8% versus 2004.”

For the full year 2005, consolidated net sales were $4,835,974,000 compared with $4,429,248,000, an increase of 9.2%. Net income for 2005 was $493,244,000, or $1.99 per share-diluted, compared with $577,901,000, or $2.25 per share-diluted, for 2004.

Lenny said: “2005 was a very strong year for Hershey. We delivered record sales growth, expanded our category leadership, and achieved record profitability and returns from operations. Sales growth for the year of 9% included organic sales growth of 6%. The organic sales growth was well-balanced between benefit-driven innovation, price realization, and solid seasonal performance.

“Our ability to deliver a superior value proposition to both consumers and customers is evident in Hershey’s marketplace performance. In both the U.S. confectionery market and the broader U.S. snack market, Hershey was the fastest growing company in terms of market share gains.”

Looking ahead he said: “While input costs will be broadly higher in 2006, the combination of net price realisation and productivity initiatives across the business system is expected to yield an improvement in operating margins. Therefore, for 2006, we expect net sales to increase at a rate somewhat above our 3-4 % long-term goal, and expect diluted earnings per share from operations, which excludes business realignment charges, to increase at a rate slightly above our 9-11% long-term goal.”