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Lassonde squeezes big increase in first-quarter profits out of juice operations

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ROUGEMONT, Que. - Fruit and vegetable drink maker Lassonde Industries squeezed 21 per cent more profit from its operations in the first quarter despite "difficult market conditions."

The Quebec-based company said profits attributable to shareholders were $7.1 million or $1.01 per share, up from $5.85 million or 84 cents per share in the prior year.

Sales rose 1.5 per cent to $244.2 million for the period ended March 29 despite slightly lower sales volumes for national brands.

The company's financing costs were reduced due to lower interest rates and a large reduction in debt from the acquisition of Clement Pappas. It also benefited from the lower Canadian dollar.

Lassonde (TSX:LAS.A) said its operating profit increased 3.4 per cent to $14.3 million due to the improved profitability of private label products, partially offset by restructuring charges.

Meanwhile, sales of North American juice and drink manufacturers are still being affected by sluggish growth in demand, while recent acquisitions by major Canadian food retailers have affected the competitive environment, it said.

Lassonde, which employs some 2,000 people at 14 plants across Canada and in the United States, develops, manufactures and sells a wide range of fruit and vegetable juices and drinks marketed under brands such as Everfresh, Fairlee, Flavur, Fruite, Graves, Oasis and Rougemont. It is also the second-largest producer of store brand ready-to-drink fruit juices and drinks in the United States.

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