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It could be crunch time for



. The maker of

Frosted Flakes

and other cereals told analysts Wednesday morning it has lowered its earnings projections and now expects operating profits to increase by the "mid-single digits" over the next three years, according to



Speaking at a Naples, Fla., food industry conference, Kellogg, which is based in Battle Creek, Mich., also reportedly reiterated that its planned acquisition of No. 2 cookie maker

Keebler Foods

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would close in late March. Kellogg, which recently posted fourth-quarter earnings that

beat analysts' expectations by 2 cents, announced

the acquisition on Oct. 26, 2000.

Kellogg said Wednesday that the Keebler acquisition is "a catalyst" for Kellogg's "visibility," and that it would give the company "the breathing room and flexibility" to "do the right things" for meeting its earnings targets. The company did not provide any figures for its lowered targets today.

Last November, the company

warned that its purchase of the Elmhurst, Ill.-based Keebler would make comparisons between the first half of 2001 and the first half of 2000 "particularly challenging."

Shares of the company were lately off 5 cents, or 0.18%, to $27.30 in morning activity on the

New York Stock Exchange