Lamb Weston business helps ConAgra beat sales estimates

April 7 (Reuters) - ConAgra Foods Inc reported higher-than-expected quarterly sales, helped by strong demand for its Lamb Weston potato products sold mainly to restaurants and other food industry customers.

Shares of Conagra, known for its Chef Boyardee pasta and Healthy Choice dinners, were up 2.8 percent at $46.70 in premarket trading on Thursday.

Sales in ConAgra's commercial foods business, which includes Lamb Weston, rose 6.1 percent to $1.07 billion in the third quarter ended Feb. 28.

Sales in the company's consumer foods business, which includes frozen dinners and pasta, fell 2.4 percent.

The business has been struggling to boost sales as consumers opt for fresher, healthier products instead of well-known packaged brands.

ConAgra, under pressure from activist hedge fund Jana Partners LLC, announced major restructuring plans last year.

As part of the plan, the company sold its private label unit to TreeHouse Foods Inc in February. ConAgra also plans to spin off the Lamb Weston business and cut office-based jobs.

The company said on Thursday the planned separation of the Lamb Weston business was on track.

Total sales for the quarter rose 0.6 percent to $2.92 billion. Analysts on average expected $2.86 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Net income attributable to ConAgra was $204.6 million, or 46 cents per share, compared with a loss of $954.1 million, or $2.23 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, ConAgra earned 57 cents per share, missing the average analyst estimate of 58 cents.

Up to Wednesday's close, ConAgra's stock had risen nearly 20 percent in the last 12 months.

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