Campbell Soup Company (NYSE:CPB) shareholders, when seeing today's first-quarter earnings report, probably said, "M'm! M'm! Good!" With first-quarter sales up 10% and net income increasing 9%, what is there not to like? Well, plenty.

Operating earnings were up a mere 4% and, as a percentage of sales, declined from 20% last year to 19% now. It was only last May when the CEO was talking about arresting the decline in operating margins. Who wouldn't agree with that? So, where is it?

Part of the reason operating margins were under stress was the company's decision to move more marketing and trade promotion programs into the first quarter. That drove sales higher, but what about the rest of the year?

Analysts had expected another lukewarm performance. Their $0.52-a-share earnings forecast missed the actual results by four pennies. But their pessimism wasn't unjustified. The company stayed with its forecast that earnings would increase 5% to 7% in 2005 (excluding restructuring charges) -- within analyst expectations of $1.66 a share (17 times forward earnings).

President and CEO Douglas R. Conant says, "We are off to a strong start," but realize three cents per share of the jump in net income this quarter comes from a favorable swing in "unallocated corporate expenses."

Campbell's revenues, along with soup peers H.J. Heinz (NYSE:HNZ) and General Mills (NYSE:GIS), are growing slowly. Food giant Kraft Foods (NYSE:KFT) isn't different. All carry significant debt loads.

For investors looking for a food processing industry investments, Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation Heinz, and its 3.0% yield (0.5% more than Campbell), deserves attention. Also of interest is Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation Fresh Del MonteProduce (NYSE:FDP). Growing much faster, it sells for 11 times earnings and yields 3.0%.

Campbell's has great brands but is highly concentrated in soups, which, until this quarter, have seen declining market share. This quarter, especially with the increased promotional spending, does not mark a clear trend reversal in soups. Yes, the numbers were good (if operating margins are ignored), but, when compared with the stocks of other food processors, others are: M'm! M'm! Better!

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Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned.