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    Nash Finch Posts Higher First-quarter Profit

    MINNEAPOLIS - Food retailer and distributor Nash Finch Co. on Thursday reported a rise in first-quarter profit, thanks in part to a boost from new accounts and stronger military sales.

    MINNEAPOLIS - Food retailer and distributor Nash Finch Co. on Thursday reported a rise in first-quarter profit, thanks in part to a boost from new accounts and stronger military sales. Corporate retail sales were down, however, as the company continues to compete in what it calls a "difficult competitive environment."

    The Minneapolis-based company reported first-quarter earnings of $4.7 million, or 38 cents per share, compared with a profit of $3.3 million, or 27 cents a share last year.

    Nash Finch said in a press release that it has strengthened its balance sheet through continued focus on inventory and accounts receivable management, debt reduction and improvement in consolidated EBITDA.

    Food distribution segment sales for the first quarter improved to $431.1 million versus $388.4 million in the prior-year period, an increase of 11.0 percent. Food distribution segment operating profits increased to $14.5 million versus $11.2 million in the first quarter of 2003. Food distribution performance was driven primarily by sales from new account gains, Nash Finch said.

    Military segment sales were $253.7 million compared to $246.8 million for the first quarter of 2003, an increase of 2.8 percent. Segment operating profits were $8.2 million, versus $6.7 million for the year-ago period, as the company continues to realize benefits from the completion of its warehouse consolidation project.

    Corporate retail sales were $194.7 million in the first quarter versus $221.5 million in the prior-year period. Same-store sales decreased 10.9 percent for the first quarter of 2004 relative to the first quarter of 2003.

    Nash Finch cited the difficult competitive environment, in which an ever-increasing number of supercenters and other alternative formats compete for price-conscious consumers, which it said continues to adversely affect same-store sales. Retail segment operating profits were $2.8 million for the first quarter of 2004 versus $7.2 million in the prior-year period. Retail profits compared negatively to the prior year partially due to the impact of negative same store sales and partially due to losses incurred by the Avanza stores opened last year.

    The company's total store count at the end of the first quarter was 106 compared to 111 at the end of the first quarter last year.

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