US snack foods maker Lance has reported a first-quarter profit, compared to a year-earlier loss, and raised its full-year 2004 earnings estimate.

The company posted net income of US$4.0m, or 13 cents per share, for the first quarter to 27 March, compared to a net loss of $3.1m, or 10 cents per share, in the same period of the previous year.

Net sales and other operating revenue rose to $144.1m for the latest quarter, compared to $132.9m in the year-ago quarter. Non-branded revenues increased 29% on continued private label strength. Branded product revenues declined 2% compared to last year as higher nut sales were more than offset by lower sales of meat snacks, cakes, mini-sandwich crackers and sugar confectionery.

First quarter 2003 results included pre-tax charges of $8.4m from discontinuing distribution of mini-sandwich crackers through the company’s route sales system and severance costs of $1.1m.

“We are off to a solid start in 2004 as non-branded sales performance remained exceptionally strong,” said CEO Paul Stroup III. “We faced significant commodity cost pressures during the quarter and do not expect near-term relief. However, our company-wide cost control efforts allowed us to keep earnings momentum going. Despite challenges, our route sales system realignment is moving forward and remains our top priority.”

The company raised its full year 2004 earnings estimate to a range of 70 cents to 80 cents per share.