North Carolina-based Ruddick Corporation has reported a 1.6 per cent rise in fourth quarter consolidated sales for the comparable period last year.

Sales for the corporation, which controls leading industrial sewing thread company American & Efird Inc (A&E), came in at $676.1 million, $10.9m higher than the fourth quarter of 2002.

Total sales for the fiscal year ended September 28 were $2.72 billion, three per cent above last year's figure.

However, the sales increases have been attributed to the success of the Ruddick-owned Harris Teeter supermarket chain, with A&E's sales declining throughout the quarter and fiscal year.

With a 7.4 per cent decrease in A&E's sales in the fourth quarter compared to the same period a year earlier, Ruddick will go ahead with plans to close its thread yarn spinning plant in Maiden, North Carolina.

"We regret having to consolidate our US manufacturing operations which resulted in the Maiden plant closing," president and CEO Thomas Dickson said.

"However, as textile and apparel imports continue to rise in the US, many of A&E's customers have either closed or shifted their production out of the US.

"Our US thread spinning plants have been on inconsistent or reduced running schedules, and this consolidation will allow our remaining plants to operate more efficiently and provide better work schedules for the remaining associates."

Dickson said A&E would now focus on increasing its global presence, with foreign sales exceeding US sales for the first time this year and accounting for about 52 per cent of total sales.