US food giant H.J. Heinz Company today (Monday) announced a fall in net profits in the third quarter, ended 26 January 2005, to $152.4m, compared with $202.2 million in the same period a year earlier.

Sales in the quarter were $2.261bn, compared with $2.097bn a year earlier.

“I am pleased by our strong sales increase of 7.8% and the positive results from many of our recent innovations,” said chairman, president and CEO William R. Johnson. “I am particularly pleased by the strong sales and profit growth delivered by our North American businesses, especially US consumer products.”

Gross margin was hit by increased commodity and fuel costs, lower pricing and substantially higher supply chain costs in the European seafood business, the company said. The lower gross margin combined with increased selling, general and administrative expenses to create the lower net profit.

Net profit for the nine months was $546.2m, compared with $607.7m a year earlier