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    Hershey Profits Soar

    Gum and mint acquisitions sweeten earnings.

    HERSHEY, Pa.

    Hershey Foods Corp., the largest U.S. chocolate maker, said its third-quarter earnings rose, driven by strong back-to-school and Halloween sales and the acquisition of Nabisco's mint and gum business.

    The maker of Hershey's Kisses and Reese's peanut butter cups has seen some short-term slowing in the confectionary industry following the jetliner attacks on the United States, but is comfortable with previous fiscal 2001 earnings guidance, chief financial officer Frank Cerminara said in a conference call with analysts.

    U.S. candy makers have done relatively well in previous economic downturns, "Nonetheless, in the short term, we have seen a slowdown in the category," he said. "Hershey, however, has continued to gain market share."

    The candy company reported net income of $120.8 million for the period up from $107.4 million a year earlier. Revenue rose to $1.3 billion from $1.2 billion a year ago on continued strength from the Nabisco acquisitions in December 2000. Those acquisitions, which include Breath Savers and Bubble Yum, accounted for about two-thirds of the sales rise.

    Sales rose 3 percent in Hershey's core candy business in the quarter compared with a 2 percent decline in the previous quarter. Cerminara said Hershey expects core business sales to be up roughly 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent for the full year, compared with previous company forecasts for 2 percent growth.

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