NEW YORK — Alberto-Culver Co. delivered a 23 percent earnings gain in its fourth quarter despite challenges, such as softer sales at its beauty systems group as well as the impact of rising raw material and fuel costs.

The Melrose Park, Ill.-based personal care products manufacturer and distributor reported earnings of $58.9 million, or 63 cents a diluted share, from $47.9 million, or 52 cents a share, for the quarter ended Sept. 30, on sales that climbed 5.9 percent to $900.7 million from $850.7 million. For the year, net earnings soared 48.7 percent to $210.9 million, or $2.31 a share, from $141.8 million, or $1.57, in the prior year as sales increased 8.4 percent to $3.53 billion.

By segment, year-end sales in the global consumer products division were up 6.4 percent to $342.7 million, while those in the beauty supply distribution segment, which includes Sally Beauty Supply and the company's beauty systems group, increased 5.1 percent to $566.3 million.

"Tresemmé, Alberto VO5 and St. Ives helped our global consumer products business have a very impressive year," said Howard B. Bernick, president and chief executive officer of Alberto-Culver, in a statement. He noted that this year, the company launched the Tresemmé brand in the U.K., where it now holds the number-four position in daily hair care.

The company plans to take several collections under the Nexxus salon hair care brand, which it purchased in May, into the mass market in February.

Bernick noted, "Nexxus is a strong brand with great consumer awareness and appeal and we are very excited about its growth potential."

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