ConAgra Foods

(CAG) - Get Conagra Brands, Inc. Report

posted a 19% rise in first-quarter earnings, beating analysts' expectations. The company also restated its expected earnings for 2003.

ConAgra's first-quarter earnings were $228 million, or 43 cents a share, compared with $188 million, or 36 cents a share, a year ago. Analysts had predicted the company would earn 40 cents a share.

ConAgra cited an improved profit in retail food brands and a change in accounting rules for the increase in earnings.

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The company's food business, which includes packaged foods, food ingredients and meat processing, had sales of $5.8 billion, compared with $6.1 billion in the year-ago quarter. Operating profit was $459 million, compared with $446 million a year ago.

ConAgra's revenue was $7.1 billion, down from last year's $7.6 billion. The company cited lower selling prices and lower volumes on some types of products for the decrease.

Looking ahead, ConAgra expects annual 2003 EPS of around $1.60. The outlook is largely on track with analysts' forecast of $1.61 a share.

Shares of the Nebraska-based company closed at $26.01 Wednesday on the

New York Stock Exchange

.