Irwin Simon, who leads Hain Celestial, will remain on Long...

Irwin Simon, who leads Hain Celestial, will remain on Long Island, moving Hain's corporate office from Melville to Lake Success and will open a research and development operation in return for tax breaks from government, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday. (Oct. 5, 2009) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Earnings rose sharply in the quarter ended March 31 for Melville-based Hain Celestial Group, Inc., driven by rising demand for natural food -- and public revulsion to "pink slime."

While many other consumer packaged food companies have had flat or shrinking consumption, Hain, a maker of natural and organic food and personal products, said Thursday sales rose at its core brands, which include Earth's Best, Celestial Seasonings, Garden of Eatin' and Greek Gods.

Hain earned a record $24.1 million in the quarter, up 43.7 percent from the same period last year. Earnings per diluted share were 52 cents compared to 38 cents in the third-quarter last year.

Net sales for the quarter rose 31.5 percent from the same period last year to $379.4 million.

"Our natural and organic products continue to resonate with consumers both domestically and internationally, outpacing the trends of conventional consumer packaged goods companies," Irwin D. Simon, chief executive of Hain Celestial, said in a prepared statement.

Hain's third-quarter sales figure excludes net sales of $21 million from a private-label, chilled-ready-meals business in the United Kingdom that the company plans to sell. If those sales were included, net sales would have increased by about 39 percent, said Simon.

A July 1 price increase as well as "productivity savings" helped offset commodity- and fuel-driven inflation, said John Carroll, chief financial officer.

The recent controversy over pink slime, a ground beef ingredient treated with ammonium hydroxide, turned out to be another factor contributing to Hain Celestial's gains.

"Pink slime has really helped drive growth within the protein category, both chicken and turkey," Simon said. Sales rose 33 percent at Hain's turkey business, Plainville Farms, and 13 percent at its chicken unit, FreeBird.

He added, "I think pink slime helps the overall natural and organic category."

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