US meat processor ConAgra reported Q1 earnings up 21% to US$227.6m.

Despite having to lower the price of its products in a softer market, the company outstripped analysts’ forecasts. Net revenues declined 7.2% to $7.1bn, partly offset by an 8.1% decline in costs.

The growth in profits was largely attributed to the performance of its higher margin packaged food operations. The company is increasing its focus on the value-added end of the business, notably branded products such as Healthy Choice frozen dinners and Armour hot dogs.

“I want to see all of our businesses, and not just packaged foods, be ahead of last year,” CEO Bruce Rohde said, but “it may be tough for that to happen this year because the overall markets are working against our agricultural and poultry businesses.”

ConAgra’s meat-processing sector declined 6.8% to $2.53bn, and agricultural products declined 18.3% to $1.26bn. This largely reflects weak beef, pork and cheese markets, Rohde said.