US foodservice distributor Sysco Corp has reported a 15.6% increase in quarterly net earnings, despite “challenging” market conditions.

The company posted net earnings of US$280.6m, or 43 cents per share, for the fourth quarter to 3 July, compared to $242.7m, or 37 cents per share, a year earlier.

Sales increased 16.7% to $8.14bn, including sales from acquisitions of 0.4%, for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2004, compared to $6.97bn a year earlier. After adjusting for the extra week contained in the latest quarter, sales rose 8.4%.

“Sysco was able to generate solid sales and earnings numbers during the fourth quarter while competing in a market that can best be described as challenging,” said chief executive Richard J. Schnieders.

“A softer foodservice market and prolonged product inflation of 6.3% for the fiscal year were the primary test our operating companies faced and continue to address,” said Schnieders, adding that the dairy and meat categories had experienced the highest rates of inflation.

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The company said its restaurant operator customers were also experiencing softness in their sales as cost and price increases impact consumer spending. As a result, Sysco said it experienced a moderate slowing of sales in the latter half of the fourth quarter that has continued into the first five weeks of the new fiscal year.