Plant-based and dairy beverage maker WhiteWave Foods Co. (NYSE:WWAV) reported third quarter earnings on Nov. 9, with 17% revenue growth on both strong organic sales and revenue from acquisitions. The company also reported strong profits as eating trends continue to drive more and more consumers to choose organic and non-dairy alternatives to traditional milk products. 

By most measures, WhiteWave had a great quarter, with growth in sales and earnings, even as currency exchange headwinds impact international sales, and seasonal produce availability affected the fresh foods business. Let's take a closer look at the results. 

The numbers 

Metric Q3 2015Q3 2014Change
Revenue $1,004 $857 17.2%
Net Income  $50 $41 22%
Earnings Per Share $0.29 $0.23 26.1%

Data source: Whitewave Foods. Amounts (except per share) in millions. 

WhiteWave's results (and the market's response) stand in contrast to those recently reported by Hain Celestial Group (NASDAQ:HAIN), which ended its record of 20 consecutive quarters of double-digit revenue growth: 

MetricQ1 2016Q1 2015Change
Revenue $687.2 million $631.3 million 8.9%
Net income $31.3 million $18.9 million 66%
Earnings per share $0.30 $0.18 67%
Adjusted earnings per share $0.37 $0.34 9%

Data source: Hain Celestial. Amounts (except per share) in millions. 

It's not a straight comparison between these two "better for you" packaged food companies as they only compete in a handful of non-dairy beverage categories, but the key is that much of Hain's struggles last quarter were in the "center aisle" segment of the typical grocery store where many of its core products are found, while WhiteWave benefited from the increased demand for its products, which are found on the perimeter of the store. 

For even more context on the impact of foreign currency headwinds -- something that WhiteWave continues to deal with in its European business -- we can look at the most recent quarter's results at packaged foods giant General Mills (NYSE:GIS)

General Mills reported a 1% decline in revenues to $4.2 billion in late September. However, U.S. sales were up 4%, while international revenues fell 11% almost because of a 16% impact from foreign exchange. In other words, General Mills' international segment actually collected 5% higher revenues based on local currencies. 

The point? Currency fluctuations are a part of being a multinational business, and will only play a bigger role as international sales grow over time. However, they're also cyclical, and can boost sales and profits as easily as weighing on them, given time. 

What happened in the quarter 

  • Sales increased 20% when adjusted for currency fluctuation. 
  • Organic sales (i.e., sales before acquisitions) increased 11% when adjusted for currency fluctuation. 
  • The Americas foods and beverages segment reported 23% sales growth, led by 41% increase in plant-based foods and beverages.
  • The Americas fresh foods segment reported 4% growth, with a planned decline in lower-margin fresh produce sales offsetting growth in the new frozen foods category. 
  • The Europe foods and beverages segment reported 4% revenue growth. However, currency exchange belies the strong growth WhiteWave had in this segment. Adjusted for currency fluctuation, sales increased 20%.
  • The company completed its acquisitions of Wallaby Yogurt and Vega nutritional products in the quarter, for a combined $675 million. The Wallaby acquisition will increase WhiteWave's West Coast production capacity, while Vega will help it expand into more product segments. 

What management said 
Chairman and CEO Gregg Engles, on the company's strong operational performance and growth of the core business, said:

Our net sales increased to $1 billion, marking WhiteWave's first time to reach this quarterly sales milestone. ... After excluding the results from acquisitions within the past year, our organic constant currency growth was 11%, behind growth in all of our segments. We leveraged this strong top-line growth into operating income growth of 25%. 

And on the growth in Europe, despite the negative impact of a strong U.S. dollar, he noted:

Our Europe foods and beverages segment continued to generate strong results, with 20% constant currency sales growth in Q3. This growth continues to be volume-driven and broad-based across our major European markets and product lines. 

Looking ahead 
WhiteWave continues to benefit from strong consumer trends driving demand for its core product portfolio, as well as strategic acquisitions to expand its market share and enter new categories. But it's more than just demand, as a solid management team continues to execute well on investing in growth at what has worked out so far to be a reasonable rate, with operating expenses increasing at a similar rate as sales in recent quarters. 

However, the company now carries more than $2.1 billion in long-term debt and has significantly increased interest expense over the past year. And while debt isn't always a bad thing -- to the contrary, so far WhiteWave has used debt to make some acquisitions that should generate substantial per-share returns for years -- debt must continue to cost less than the returns it generates. Not an issue today, but acquisitions can be very hard to keep doing well. 

Putting it all together, WhiteWave had a great quarter and looks positioned for years of growth ahead. 

Jason Hall owns shares of Hain Celestial. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Hain Celestial and WhiteWave Foods. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.