As we all know, today's shoppers aren't exactly opening up their wallets and dumping money on the counter -- but they are, apparently, willing to pay higher prices for their Del Monte canned fruit and Meow Mix cat food.

Price hikes and lower taxes resulted in a 42% jump in fourth-quarter earnings at

Del Monte Foods

(DLM)

.

During the quarter, the company earned $71.5 million, or 36 cents per share, from $50.4 million, or 25 cents per share, a year ago.

Earnings from continuing operations were 35 cents a share, topping the 26 cents expected by analysts.

Sales shot up 20% to $1.06 billion from $875.8 million on higher revenue at both its consumer and pet-products units.

For the year, profit grew 30% to $172.3 million, or 87 cents per share, from $133.1 million, or 66 cents per share.

In response to all this counterintuitive news, shares of the company soared 11% to $8.50 in morning trading, as Del Monte also issued better-than-expected 2010 guidance. The foodmaker expects earnings of 76 cents, a penny more than Wall Street's outlook.

Price hikes are becoming a trend among food processors.

Earlier this week, rival

General Mills

(GIS) - Get Report

boosted its full-year forecast, citing a lower fourth-quarter tax rate and stronger U.S. sales due to price increases. The maker of Yoplait Yogurt, Wheaties cereal and Pillsbury Toaster Strudel, now expects earnings in the range of $3.87 to $3.89.

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