Uniform and career apparel company Superior Uniform Group Inc on Thursday posted a 26 per cent jump in third quarter earnings from the year-ago period despite a slight fall in quarterly sales from last year.

The Florida-based company said net income for the quarter ended September 30 rose to $1.99 million, or 27 cents per common share, from $1.6m, or 22 cents per share, in the 2002 third quarter.

The firm, whose marketing divisions include Fashion Seal Uniforms, Martin's, Empire, Appel, Worklon, Universal and Sope Creek, added quarterly sales slipped to $35.2m from $36.7m in the year-ago period.

Chairman and CEO, Gerald Benstock, commented: "We were quite pleased to report a 26 per cent increase in our net earnings for the quarter and a 23 per cent increase in our diluted earnings per common share despite a slight decline in sales for the quarter.

"We have further improved our gross margins in the current quarter and are in an excellent position to provide competitively priced products to the market.

"We are beginning to see improvement in the economic outlook and have been awarded several significant new national account contracts in the last few months that we will begin to service over the next several months.

"Our financial position and cash generation from operations remain very strong. It is this strength that has allowed us to weather the economic downturn over the last several years and to be able to continue to invest in our organisation in preparation for better economic times ahead."