MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis-based General Mills, Inc. released its third-quarter results on March 20, reporting accelerated sales growth for Blue Buffalo Pet Products, Inc. helped carry the company to a sales increase of 8% in the third quarter ended Feb. 24.

Pet segment sales were $346.8 million in the third quarter. On a pro forma basis, net sales increased 4%. Pet segment sales escalated as they were $28.3 million for the four weeks ended Jan. 26, which compared with $26 million for the four weeks ended Nov. 3, 2018, $21.7 million for the four weeks ended Aug. 11, 2018, and $18.8 million for the four weeks ended May 19, 2018.

Pet segment operating profit was $73 million, which was $2 million below the prior year’s third quarter on a pro forma basis. General Mills expects pro forma pet segment net sales growth will accelerate in the fourth quarter as the company expands distribution.

Overall, third-quarter net sales totaled $4,198.3 million, up from $3,882.3 million in the previous year’s third quarter. Blue Buffalo Pet Products, which was acquired April 24, 2018, drove the growth. Organic net sales increased 1%.

Net earnings attributable to General Mills in the third quarter totaled $446.8 million, equal to 74 cents per share on the common stock, which was down 53% from $941.4 million, or $1.64 per share, in the previous year’s third quarter. The decrease primarily reflected benefits from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in the previous year’s third quarter. Adjusted earnings per share were up 67%.

In North America Retail, net sales of $2,518.6 million in the third quarter were up slightly from $2,517.4 million. Operating profit rose 12% to $581.6 million from $518.3 million, driven by benefits from cost-savings initiatives, lower selling, general and administrative expenses, and positive net price realization and mix, partially offset by input cost inflation.

General Mills companywide in the first nine months of the fiscal year posted net earnings of $1,182.5 million, or $1.97 per share, which was down 33% from $1,776.6 million, or $3.10 per share, in the same period of the previous year. Nine-month net sales increased 7% to $12,703.5 million from $11,850.2 million.

General Mills should meet or exceed its key 2019 fiscal year financial targets, said Jeffrey L. Harmening, chairman and CEO of the company. Constant-currency adjusted diluted EPS growth should range between flat to up 1% in the fiscal year, which compared to a previous range of flat to down 3%.

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