Back when we stalked the Earth in fur unitards, hot soup meant a lot of killing, cutting, and cooking. A century ago, Campbell (NYSE:CPB) redefined soup by condensing it and peddling it in cans. But these days, traditional soup sales are flagging, as Americans seem to find cans and pans as daunting as clubs and campfires.

As I remarked on Friday, convenience is one way to make up for soggy sales in the food business. Campbell is counting on a new generation of products that cut valuable seconds out of the heat-and-eat process. Last November, the famous soup giant was scrambling to meet demand for its new microwaveable bowls of Select Soups and the soda-can inspired, sippable "Soup at Hand" line.

For Q2 of 2004, sales volume of those familiar red-and-white cans was down, though price increases kept revenues flat. Luckily, ready-serve soup sales jumped 17% in both dollars and shipments. And, despite the Atkins craze, Campbell's carb-loaded biscuits and confectionery unit, its second-largest source of revenue, saw 13% sales growth.

Investors will want to cast a wary eye on the 9% rise in net sales -- to $2.1 billion -- that's being trumpeted in the headlines today. The dropping dollar contributed 5% of the bump, and price increases added another 2%. Currency fluctuations and price hikes do not make for the healthiest top-line growth.

At the bottom line, Q2 earnings amounted to $0.57 a share, a penny more than last year. That's nothing to write home about, but earnings are up 5% through the first six months of the fiscal year, to $1.08 -- not accounting for a goodwill impairment charge taken last year.

Estimates put 2004's earnings around $1.58. That represents a modest 4% jump over 2003 (unless you back out the abovementioned charge, in which case the estimates represent a 1.3% drop).

At around $27.50 per share, the firm trades near its 52-week high, sporting a price-to-earnings ratio of 17.5. That's similar to the P/Es of peers such as Progresso's parent General Mills (NYSE:GIS), although cheaper than Wyler's maker Heinz (NYSE:HNZ). But it looks too pricey, given Campbell's lackluster earnings growth.

Food fans looking for value and dividends may want to check out Motley Fool Income Investor .

Fool Contributor Seth Jayson owns cans of Campbell's Soup, but no shares of any company mentioned above.