Margin gains at United Natural Foods, particularly at its speciality food unit, drove improved profits during the company’s fiscal third quarter, the company revealed today (2 June).

Net income was US$16.8m, or US$0.39 per diluted share, for the third quarter of fiscal 2009 compared with net income for the third quarter of fiscal 2008 of US$13m, or US$0.30 per diluted share.

“Our record earnings in the third quarter reflect our continued focus on cash flow, market share and the further expansion and integration of our specialty business,” said president and CEO Steven Spinner. “We continued to benefit from lower diesel fuel costs, while improved operational efficiencies and expense control by all of our associates resulted in earnings that represented a 30% increase over the third quarter of fiscal 2008.”

Gross margin was 19% for the quarter, which represents a 27 basis point improvement from gross margin of 18.7% for the third quarter of fiscal 2008. The company’s speciality food unit saw greatest margin improvements, the group indicated.

Net sales remained relatively flat, increasing 0.3% to $889.5m. However, United Natural confirmed its full-year sales guidance range of 2.5-4%. In addition, the group raised its EPS guidance to a range of $1.34-1.38 per share, up from previous guidance of $1.28-1.36.