(April 30, 3:35 p.m.) Rising food and fuel costs haven’t slowed Sysco’s growth.

Sysco Corp., the Houston-based foodservice giant, reported its third quarter sales increased 6.7% to $9.1 billion, and net earnings increased 9% to $240.9 million. Earnings per share were 40 cents, an increase of 14.3% from a year ago.

Chairman and chief executive officer Richard Schnieders said it was the company’s seventh consecutive quarter of double-digit growth per share. It happened despite food cost inflation of 6.2%.

“Considering the challenging economic environment, I’m once again pleased with our results,” he said during an April 28 conference call.

Sysco, which reported a $1 billion profit in fiscal 2007, reported net earnings of $772 million for the first 39 weeks of fiscal 2008. That was a 10.7% increase from the same period last year. Sales increased 7.7% to $27.7 billion during the period, while earnings per share increased 13.5% to $1.26.

Schnieders said customers, particularly independent restaurants, were doing well despite the weak economy.

“It’s easier for them to make adjustments obviously,” he said of independent operators. “They don’t have to go through corporate bureaucracies to get price changes done. They can do that on the fly. We see a lot of that right now.”

Schnieders said Sysco was working with customers to rework menus and replace expensive ingredients with less expensive alternatives.

President and chief operating officer Kenneth Spitler said fuel costs in the third quarter were $12 million more than in the year ago period. He estimated fuel will have an even more adverse affect in the fourth quarter, with a $20 million to $25 million increase compared to the same time last year.

Spitler said the company is doing what it can to increase efficiencies. He said Sysco trucks are carrying an average of 15% more cases per load than they did in 2001.

Spitler said the company’s second redistribution center has opened in Alachua, Fla. The new 500,000-square-foot facility is supplying five of Sysco’s operating companies in the Southeast with more likely to come on board.

The company’s first redistribution center opened in Front Royal, Va., in 2005. A third, a 700,000-square-foot facility, is planned for Hamlet, Ind., and will serve the company’s Midwest businesses.

Sysco reported its capital expenditures for the year could reach $575 million.