It was just a few months ago that things looked slightly promising for ConAgra Foods (NYSE:CAG), when it reported its first-quarter results. But with yesterday's announcement that the company will miss its own second-quarter earnings target, it appears things for ConAgra will get a bit darker before getting brighter. The company's guidance now calls for earnings per share of $0.38 (excluding one-time charges) instead of the $0.45 previously expected.

ConAgra continues to confuse and infuriate investors. The company has a crop of strong consumer brands that puts it in the same class as Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) and Income Investor selection Kraft Foods (NYSE:KFT). But just when it looks like ConAgra might get on track, it hits another bump in the road.

ConAgra's higher energy and packaging costs are not at all unfamiliar. Similar reports have come out of Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB) and other consumer-goods companies. However, ConAgra attempted to raise its prices, and its competitors did not follow suit, which means that ConAgra gave up some sales volume. Given that a number of ConAgra's competitors are in better financial shape, I'm not entirely surprised that they, unlike ConAgra, were able to hold the line on price increases.

The other area weighing down ConAgra's performance in its second quarter was its commodities trading business. Ironically, this is the business that performed particularly well in the first quarter, and I cautioned investors then that they should not expect large trading gains to be recurring. Investors should expect that the commodities trading portion of ConAgra's business will experience wide swings in profitability. Granted, the company's forward guidance is in comparison with last year's numbers, not last quarter's, but the same rule of thumb applies: Trading operations are volatile by nature.

Despite all the bad news, the company's conference call this morning following yesterday's announcement has given me a more positive perspective on the company than I've had lately. I'm more positive largely because of the comments from its new CEO, Gary Rodkin, who said ConAgra will continue to rationalize its "stock keeping units" (an industry term for product line) and that he wants to improve the company's balance sheet and cash flow performance.

As of right now, these are just words. But they are the right words. For me to take them seriously, ConAgra needs to deliver. And quite honestly, I wouldn't mind if the company cut its robust 5.1% dividend yield as part of an operational plan centered on enhancing the profitability and growth of the existing business.

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Nathan Parmelee has no financial stake in any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.