Food company ConAgra ( CAG) said third-quarter earnings tumbled about 37% to $193.2 million, or 43 cents a share, from $309.1 million, or 63 cents a share, a year earlier.

Excluding a gain of 3 cents a share in the latest quarter, earnings from continuing operations in the quarter were 40 cents a share compared with earnings from continuing operations of 34 cents a share a year earlier.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 36 cents a share.

Sales in the quarter rose 6% to $3.14 billion, roughly in line with the estimates of analysts.

ConAgra said its consumer foods segment saw operating profit rise 12%, or 6% on a comparable basis. The company said it expects more improvement from that segment in the fiscal fourth quarter.

The company reaffirmed it expects fiscal 2009 earnings from continuing operations slightly above $1.50 a share, excluding items. Analysts estimate fiscal 2009 earnings of $1.47 a share.

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