Condense Campbell Soup Company's (NYSE:CPB) latest earnings report down to this: The "M'm! M'm! Good" company turned in another so-so quarter.

"Volume and mix were flat," the report stated -- not particularly encouraging, but perhaps caused partly by price increases.

Optimists have this to savor: Net sales increased 4%. Earnings per share, at $0.35 a share, were $0.02 better than analysts predicted and $0.03 better than last year's third quarter, minus a one-time gain.

Pessimists will see sales slightly below the average analyst estimate. They may also note that the 4% increase was half currency-related and half pricing-related. That may be better than nothing -- but not much better.

Optimists will hear the company touting a 5% to 7% increase in 2005 income over 2004 (Campbell's fiscal year ends July 5, 2005). Pessimists will see the $1.66-to-$1.69-per-share forecast as having the potential to miss analyst estimates of $1.68 a share.

Optimists see the stock up 18% over a one-year period. Pessimists see the stock roughly $5 below the 2000 high and, looking back one decade, roughly half its 1998 high.

For the past five years, Campbell's per annum earnings shrank 1.2%. Analysts expect 6% compounded annual growth over the next five years. Compare that with the food-processing industry's 8.6% annual growth; the S&P 500 notches 10.5% per year. Kraft's (NYSE:KFT) expected five-year growth rate is 7%, despite all its problems, and General Mills' (NYSE:GIS) is forecast to come in at 9%.

Campbell's has really excelled, though, in reducing its total debt by $324 million over the past 12 months. Although current debt stands at nearly $3 billion, the company's strong cash flow can easily cover its interest payments, 2.2% dividend, and capital expenditures.

Those looking for higher five-year earnings-growth rates within similar realms should look at Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation Heinz (NYSE:HNZ) and Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick Fresh Del Monte Produce (NYSE:FDP), which analysts see growing by 8% and 9%, respectively.

Optimists will see Campbell's strong balance sheet, the current quarter's earnings, and future growth prospects as promising. Pessimists will remember the company's poor earnings performance over the past five years and point to its below-industry-average 6% forward growth rate. They'll also question why anyone would pay 19 times earnings on a trailing-12-month basis, when a company like Fresh Del Monte Produce is priced at 11.4 times trailing earnings and is expected to grow 50% faster every year for the next five years.

Soup up your Campbell's knowledge with these Foolish Takes:

Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. Click here to see The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.