Food giant

H.J. Heinz


squeezed past earnings estimates, mostly on the strength of sales in its core ketchup, condiments and sauces brands.

Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Heinz reported earnings of 63 cents per diluted share for the third quarter, or $227.2 million, a 5% increase over year-ago figures of 60 cents per share, or $219.5 million. Analysts surveyed by

First Call/Thomson Financial

projected earnings of 62 cents per share.

Heinz's third-quarter sales rose to $2.29 billion from $2.28 billion a year earlier. The company said sales were reduced by 5.3% by its sale of the

Weight Watchers

classroom business. Excluding the Weight Watchers business, sales rose 8.7% in the quarter, Heinz said, with acquisitions comprising most of the gains.

Heinz, which also makes StarKist canned tuna, Ore-Ida frozen potatoes and 9-Lives cat food, said the strong showing kept it on track to meet its goal of earnings-per-share growth of 6-7% for the full year.

William R. Johnson, Heinz president and chief executive, credited the company's "creative marketing" for the strong showing by its flagship ketchup brand. The company shelled out $50 million in launching its largest ad campaign in more than a decade late last year.

Heinz shares were little changed in early trading Wednesday, trading down 1/4, or 1%, to 34, near its 52-week low of 30 13/16.