updated 4/22/2004 9:47:48 AM ET 2004-04-22T13:47:48

Hershey Foods Corp. said Thursday its profit rose 9.7 percent in the first quarter, narrowly beating analysts’ expectations.

The nation’s largest candy maker earned $107.1 million, or 82 cents a share, for the quarter ending April 4, compared with $97.6 million, or 73 cents a share, for the same period a year ago.

The results beat the consensus forecast of 81 cents a share by analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

Sales rose to $1.01 billion from $953.2 million a year ago.

“The combination of higher margin, on-trend new items and continued cost control yielded strong sales growth, market share expansion, and record profitability,” said Richard H. Lenny, the company’s chairman and chief executive.

The company also announced a two-for-one stock split, giving stockholders an additional share for each one they own on May 25. The additional shares are to be distributed on June 15.

The company’s stock price is up 10 percent since the beginning of the year and 33 percent in the past year.

Lenny said he expects sales to grow 3 percent to 4 percent with a 9 percent to 11 percent growth in earnings for 2003.

The Hershey, Pa.-based company makes the Hershey Chocolate bar, Mr. Goodbar, Kit Kat, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and employs 14,000 worldwide.

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