ELMHURST, Ill. (AP) _ Keebler Foods Inc., the nation's third-largest cookie and cracker maker and soon the property of Kellogg Co., topped expectations Tuesday by reporting a nearly 27 percent jump in third-quarter profits.

The company attributed the gain to strong sales of crackers _ including Town House, Wheatables and Cheez-Its _ along with operational improvements that helped offset flat sales of Keebler cookies.

Net income for the three-month period ended Oct. 7 was $40.95 million, or 46 cents a share, up from year-earlier figures of $32.1 million, or 37 cents a share. That exceeded the 43-cents-a-share consensus estimate of analysts surveyed by First Call/Thomson Financial.

Kellogg agreed last week to buy Keebler for $3.86 billion, or $42 a share.

Keebler stock rose 6.3 cents to $40.56 a share Tuesday morning on the New York Stock Exchange.

Keebler's chief executive officer, Sam Reed, said in a conference call he will remain in the post ``for the foreseeable future.'' Following Keebler's integration into the Battle Creek, Mich.-based cereal giant, he plans to take a position away from day-to-day management.

Revenues grew 4 percent to $642.2 million from $615.8 million a year earlier, helped by an 8 percent rise in cracker sales, but would have fallen if not for $43.4 million in sales at newly acquired Austin Quality Foods. Sales slipped 5 percent at the unit which handles private-label biscuits, custom-baked products and Girl Scout cookies.

For the first nine months of 2000, earnings were $121.9 million, or $1.39 a share, compared with $43.4 million, or 52 cents a share, in the same period a year ago. Nine-month revenues climbed 3 percent to $2.11 billion from $2.06 billion.

Keebler, based in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst, Ill., also manufactures Famous Amos cookies and is the biggest maker of Girl Scout cookies.