For investors of grocer and food distributor SuperValu (NYSE:SVU) the year just keeps getting better, with its shares' sharp rise in morning trading only adding to their already remarkable rise from March lows. The stock was up today on news that fiscal Q3 (ended Nov. 29) profits, after items, rose year over year.

It's been an eventful year at SuperValu, which runs the Cub Foods and Save-A-Lot grocery chains, among other businesses. The company dealt with labor problems in St. Louis that resulted in four weeks of lost union labor, sold its Denver operations -- Kroger (NYSE:KR) bought some of its retail locations -- and swapped its New England operations for C&S Wholesale Grocers' Midwestern assets.

SuperValu, in short, has performed pretty well so far this year. Getting your arms around its earnings release to quantify that is admittedly somewhat difficult because of all the special items and events -- but if you can manage that, the company is one worth examining, with its history of strong, if uneven, free cash flow and an improving balance sheet.

The company projects EPS of between $2.01 and $2.10 for the whole of fiscal 2004. It's also providing early estimates of between $2.30 and $2.45 per share for fiscal 2005, suggesting earnings growth of between 10% and 20% over that period. Should SuperValu prove able to hit the high end of those ranges, its shares might be interesting even now, despite its run-up over the course of 2003.

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Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at