US fresh fruit producer and distributor Fresh Del Monte has posted higher quarterly earnings as increased sales of fruit products offset higher costs.

The Florida-based company reported profit of US$88.1m, or $1.55 a share, for the first quarter to 28 March, compared with $61m, or $1.10 a share, a year earlier.

The results for the quarter included a gain of 20 cents a share from insurance recoveries related to Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Excluding the gain, Fresh Del Monte earned $1.35 a share, beating analysts’ estimates of $1.27 a share, reported Reuters.

The company’s sales were up 20% year-on-year to $643.8m for the first quarter, boosted by strong banana sales in Europe and North America.

Gross profit margins fell to 16.6% from 19.8% a year earlier as shipping, energy and operating costs grew.

“Our business is running smoothly and we expect the company’s strong performance to continue throughout 2003,” chief executive officer Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh was quoted by Reuters as saying.