September 26, 2019 / 12:07 PM / 10 months ago

UPDATE 2-Conagra profit beats as Pinnacle deal integration gathers pace

(Adds details on operating businesses, updates shares)

Sept 26 (Reuters) - Conagra Brands Inc beat Wall Street estimates for quarterly profit on Thursday, boosted by improved performance at recently acquired Pinnacle Foods and strong demand for the packaged food maker's frozen food brands.

Pinnacle is the biggest of a handful of acquisitions the Chicago-based firm has made over the past three years to beef up its portfolio with products including Birds Eye and meatless brand Gardein as it battles rising competition and large department store operators' private labels.

Investors were initially skeptical about the success of the deal last year, but as the company works to integrate the new product lines, shares in Conagra have risen about 40% this year.

The company's stock was up 2% in early trading in a broadly weaker market.

In the first quarter ended Aug. 25, net sales in its refrigerated & frozen foods, including Pinnacle, surged 51% to $959 million, while organic net sales in the segment edged up 1.5%.

The company called out strong demand for its Slim Jim meat sticks and beef jerky, Banquet and Healthy Choice frozen meals, and P.F.Chang's frozen Chinese food during the quarter.

Excluding certain items, the company earned 43 cents per share, beating estimate of 39 cents per share.

Net revenue rose to $2.39 billion from $1.83 billion, but missed the average analyst estimate of $2.48 billion, hurt by lower organic sales at its foodservice business, which provides products such as sauces and beef cuts to restaurants and caterers.

"While our Foodservice and International businesses experienced unplanned softness on the top line this quarter, they outperformed our operating profit and margin expectations," Chief Executive Officer Sean Connolly said in a statement.

"We believe the first quarter net sales issues in these segments were discrete and are now largely behind us."

The company is betting on its investments in new product launches such as Birds Eye veggie shreds, Duncan Hines Gooey Bakes brownies and mug cakes, as well as its marketing initiatives to boost sales in second half of its fiscal year.

Reporting by Praveen Paramasivam and Soundarya J in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Patrick Graham

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