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) -- Shares of



stock have moved higher after the company's CEO William Johnson told investors at a shareholders meeting in Pittsburgh that the company is "off to a good start" this fiscal year and preannounced consensus-beating first-quarter earnings.

Heinz stock has increased 0.7% to $46.40 Tuesday afternoon.

Heinz said that the company has been expecting first-quarter earnings of 75 cents a share, an increase of more than 10% from continuing operations last year, and higher than the average analyst estimate of 73 cents a share.

"Emerging Markets once again are expected to drive our results, with organic sales growth of almost 22% (13.2% reported) in the quarter," Johnson said at the meeting in Pittsburgh. "Emerging Markets are on track to deliver at least 20% of our total sales by 2013, more than double their contribution of just five years ago."

Johnson also mentioned Heinz's recent launch of infant formula in China and the upcoming U.S. launch of Dip and Squeeze, a new foodservice ketchup package. Furthermore, according to Johnson, Heinz will "continue to explore bolt-on acquisitions like Foodstar."

In June, Heinz announced its agreement to buy, from private equity company

Transpac Industrial,


, a manufacturer of soy sauce and fermented bean curd in China for $165 million in cash and an earn-out potentially payable in 2014 based on the performance of the business. Heinz said the acquisition would help the company enter China's fast-growing $2 billion retail soy sauce market.

The company is set to report the details of its quarterly earnings before the market open on Wednesday.

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Stifel Nicolaus analyst Christopher Growe said in a note to clients that he thinks Heinz has quite a solid balance sheet and robust free cash flow generation. Growe thinks that, that, combined with working capital improvements should support a share repurchase opportunity for the company. Growe believes that share repurchases by the company would make more sense that its determined focus on acquisitions.

Ahead of the earnings report, Growe also said in his report that Heinz's full-year earnings could benefit from the cross-currency rate between the euro and pound "after a very negative period over the last two years." He's also expecting that net interest expense will be in line with prior-year levels, as well as comparable levels of shares outstanding and a tax rate that should be in line with the prioryear's rate.

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-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

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