Nestle (NSRGY) - Get Report, the largest food company in the world, said 1999 net profits rose 12.3%, beating expectations on the strength of broad improvements across the company.

Vevey, Switzerland-based Nestle, whose huge stable of brands include bottled waters

Perrier

and

Poland Spring

, candies

Nestle Crunch

and

Baby Ruth

and

Stouffer's

frozen dinners, said net group profit rose to 4.72 billion Swiss francs ($2.92 billion) from 4.21 billion francs in 1998. Market forecasts had Nestle profits rising around 8%.

Sales rose 4.2% to 74.66 billion francs from 71.75 billion francs a year earlier. Net profit margin increased to 6.3% from 5.9% in 1998, while operating margin rose to 10.6% from 9.9%.

Nestle cited a strong performance in North America, improvements in Western Europe and a recovery in Asia for the better-than-expected numbers. The company also pointed to a series of measures it has taken in recent years, including streamlining its business portfolio, increasing efficiency and strengthening its brands.