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Hershey Heats Up on Sweeter Dividend

Stocks in this article: HSY SBUX CAKE MCD YUM

HERSHEY, Penn. ( TheStreet) -- Hershey (HSY) shares were gaining ground on Wednesday after the candy and chocolate maker met fourth-quarter expectations on strong holiday sales and announced a 7.8% increase to its quarterly dividend .

Hershey attributed its sweetened results to strong sales during the holiday shopping season, and to growing demand in emerging markets.

Hershey shares added 2.1% to $48.12 Wednesday afternoon.

Hershey said it made significant advertising investments in 2010 in U.S. and select emerging markets, a strategy it intends to slow somewhat this fiscal year but should help it continue to drive global sales in 2011.

The company plans to launch new miniature versions of some of its legacy candies this year, including Hershey's Drops and Reese's Minis, while continuing a planned roll-out of Hershey's and Hershey's Kisses brands in select emerging markets "where we are gaining consumer awareness, trial and most importantly, repeat purchases."

Hershey is not alone in its push to grow in global markets. A number of U.S.-based food and beverage companies like Yum! Brands (YUM), McDonald's (MCD), Cheesecake Factory (CAKE) and Starbucks (SBUX) have also planned global expansions.

The candy maker updated its 2011 outlook, saying it now expects full-year sales and adjusted earnings per share to come in near the top end of its long-term 3% to 5% and 6% to 8% guidance, respectively. Based on 2010 results, that means Hershey expects to earn close to 68 cents per share this fiscal year on sales of nearly $1.48 billion.

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