NEW YORK — With solid sales of innerwear in the U.S. plus a rebound in sales of Hanes and L’eggs hosiery, operating profits at Sara Lee Corp.’s personal products division rose 10.9 percent in the third quarter to $158 million from $142 million a year ago.
Personal products sales in the quarter ended March 29 slipped 1.1 percent to $1.73 billion from $1.75 billion a year ago.
Sara Lee said that the results were led by intimate apparel operations in the U.S. and knit products in Europe. The company added that the Pacific Rim personal products businesses also logged strong profit gains.
Unit volumes for legwear rose 2 percent, reflecting flat sales for sheer hosiery and a 9 percent gain in unit sales of socks. “For the first time in more than two years, sheer hosiery units were up in the United States, on the strength of both Hanes and L’eggs,” Sara Lee said.
On a company conference call Thursday, a company spokeswoman said that U.S. hosiery sales rose 5 percent in the quarter.
However, sheer hosiery unit sales fell in Europe, as gains in Italy were offset by declines in other markets.
Sales of knit products rose 7 percent, led by strong double-digit increases in underwear for the U.S. However, the spokeswoman said that sales of screen-printed fleece were down in the quarter, generally reflecting a promotional environment for the category. Intimate apparel unit sales were up 2 percent, as higher U.S. sales were partially offset by lower unit sales in Europe. The spokeswoman noted that the Ralph Lauren women’s underwear line, licensed from Polo/Ralph Lauren Co., will begin shipping early next month.
In the nine months, operating profits for the personal care division were up 3.6 percent to $546 million from $527 million. Sales inched ahead 1.7 percent to $5.70 billion from $5.60 billion.
Legwear unit sales were flat, combining a 2 percent decline in sheer hosiery units with an 8 percent rise in sock unit sales.
Knit products unit sales were up 9 percent, but intimate apparel unit sales dipped 1 percent.
In addition to Hanes and L’eggs, Sara Lee’s personal products brands include such labels as Hanes Her Way, Bali, Playtex, Champion, Coach and Dim.
Total company profits advanced 9.7 percent in the quarter to $206 million, or 41 cents a share. Sales increased 4.6 percent to $4.6 billion. In the nine months, total company profits climbed 11 percent to $729 million, or $1.31; sales gained 5.8 percent to $14.8 billion.

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