US chocolate maker Hershey Foods today [Thursday] reported profits up 1.9% in the third quarter of its financial year.

The company conceded that sales had slowed, but said that cost-cutting measures had offset this. Net profits rose to US$123.1m or $0.89 per share in the third quarter ended 29 September, up from $120.8m or $0.88 a year ago.

Excluding the impact of exceptional items, including the cost of exploring the potential sale of the company, earnings climbed to $139.8m, or $1.01 a share, at the high end of analysts’ forecasts.

Earlier this week a number of Wall Street analysts had indicated concern that the results would reveal the impact of management being distracted by the furore concerning the proposed sale – click here for more information.

New product launches such as Hershey’s Fast Break candy bar lifted sales, but this was offset by slower retail traffic and increased competition, Reuters reported.

Net sales fell to $1.15bn from $1.18bn a year earlier, held back by the disposal of product lines including Luden’s, Heide and aseptic drinks.

President and CEO Richard H. Lenny took the opportunity to praise Hershey employees for remaining focused despite the potential sale of the company.

A judge in Pennsylvania yesterday slammed the Trust that holds a controlling stake in Hershey Foods for having lost sight of its founder’s ideals. To read more on the judge’s comments, click here.