US foodservice distributor Sysco has reported a 16.3% rise in third-quarter earnings, and said the fourth quarter was off to a good start.

The company posted net earnings of US$195.8m, or 30 cents per share, for the third quarter to 27 March, compared to $168.4m, or 26 cents per share, in the same quarter of last year.

Sales increased 9.9% to $7.0bn, compared with $6.4bn in the third quarter of fiscal 2003.

“Our sales and earnings performance was exceptional in a quarter which historically has been a soft period and which this year was marked by eight weeks of severe winter weather in a number of markets. The continued implementation of business development and business relationship strategies, the sharing of best business practices, and our expense reduction efforts all contributed to the strong third quarter results,” said CEO Richard J. Schnieders.

Schnieders added that the final weeks of the third quarter going into the fourth quarter were very encouraging, with record sales of $583.4m for the week to 3 April.

“The uncharacteristically high food cost inflation we have experienced in the last 12 months is slowly declining, although during the quarter inflation continued to impact many of our product categories, including dairy, canned and dry goods, fresh and frozen meats, poultry and produce,” Schnieders said, adding that acquisitions contributed 0.4% to the overall sales growth for the quarter, while food cost inflation for the quarter was 5.2%.