CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) _ Campbell Soup Co. said Tuesday its first quarter earnings rose 8 percent from a year ago, as a result of strong performances by its core businesses.

For the three months ending Nov. 2, the food company earned $267 million, or 58 cents per share. In the same quarter last year, Campbell earned $88 million or 18 cents a share, but those figures were affected by special charges. Excluding those charges, 1996 third quarter earnings were $248 million or 50 cents a share, the company said.

Net sales for the quarter increased 3 percent to a record $2.1 billion, compared to $2.05 billion during the same period last year.

``Our excellent earnings per share performance shows that fiscal 1998 is off to a strong start,'' said Campbell President and Chief Executive Officer Dale F. Morrison. ``We are continuing to expand our margins across the company through productivity gains and improved product mix.''

Campbell said earnings for its core business of soup and sauces increased 12 percent to $369.8 million on sales of $1.2 billion. Worldwide, the company said wet soup sales were up 12 percent.

The company's Biscuits and Confectionery Division reported sales increased 2 percent to $408 million from $401 million, led by Pepperidge Farm and Godiva Chocolatier products.

Food service sales in the quarter rose 2 percent to $107 million, compared to $105 million a year ago, driven by frozen entrees in the U.S. and a strong performance in Canada. Earnings for the quarter were up 9 percent to $15.6 million.

Campbell said sales for its Speciality Foods division fell 4 percent to $323 million and earnings dropped 4 percent to $26.6 million. The company blamed higher cattle prices in Argentina and competition for the sluggish sales.

In September, Campbell announced plans to spin off the Specialty Foods division, which includes Swanson frozen foods, Vlasic pickles and Swift Armour meats as a separate company with $1.4 billion in sales. The company said it expects to complete the spinoff later in the fiscal year.