Mark T. Smucker -- President & Chief Executive Officer
Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us. It was great to see many of you last week at CAGNY. We appreciated the opportunity to provide an update on our vision and strategy, the progress being made on our growth imperatives, our purpose, and related ESG efforts. We continue to take decisive actions to improve performance and remain focused on executing against a clear set of priorities.
We will deliver earnings growth and long-term shareholder value by prioritizing resources toward our key growth platforms, continuing increased investments to reinvigorate our brands, enhancing category leadership and executing focused operational and financial discipline. Overall, our third quarter financial results were in line with our expectations, as our anticipated decline in net sales was offset by the benefits of our targeted actions to deliver adjusted EPS growth of 4%.
These actions include an increased focus on consumer-facing marketing, prioritization of resources, and a reduction in discretionary spending. Net sales declined 2% compared to the prior year, reflecting softness in our dog food business, particularly related to our private label products and the Natural Balance brand.
Net sales for the balance of our portfolio were essentially flat with the deflationary commodity costs being passed on to consumers through lower pricing in coffee and peanut butter, mostly offset by volume growth. Highlights from the quarter included strong performance for key brands within our focus categories of pet food and pet snacks, coffee and snacking.
Starting with pet food, our cat food business achieved low single-digit growth, which marked the 9th consecutive quarter of year-over-year sales growth for our cat portfolio, while dog snacks declined slightly overall primarily due to the shift of a large retailer promotional event in the third quarter of the prior year to the fourth quarter of this year.
We were pleased with the performance of our category-leading MilkBone brand, which achieved low single-digit growth and benefited from innovation, which is expanding the brand into new treat segments, including rawhide alternatives. As anticipated, Nutrish pet food net sales declined due to the impact of retailer inventory build related to new distribution in the prior year and competitive activity in the premium dog food category.
As we discussed on last quarter's call, the team is executing a set of targeted actions to improve the Nutrish brand's consumer value proposition and reinvigorate performance. During the quarter we saw positive consumer response to these actions as household penetration for the brand improved and consumer takeaway across all channels grew by 5% sequentially from the second quarter, including online and the pet specialty channel.
Looking forward, further actions will be implemented in the fourth quarter, including the new marketing campaign that leverages the equities of Rachael Ray and real food ingredients. While consumption trends are improving, we expect shipments to decline in the fourth quarter as we lap significant distribution expansion in the prior year. We remain on track to return the brand to growth in fiscal 2021.
In coffee, segment profit grew even though net sales were comparable to the prior year as lower green coffee costs are being passed through to consumers. Volume in this segment grew for the sixth consecutive quarter and the Folgers brand achieved its highest volume quarter in over three years. Dunkin' and Cafe Bustelo continued their growth trend up 4% and 13% respectively, benefiting from expanded distribution, increased household penetration and the impact of new marketing campaigns. K-Cup sales also increased 7% with growth for each brand in the portfolio.
In snacking the Smucker's Uncrustables brand accelerated to 23% growth in the quarter and we expect similar growth in the fourth quarter. As we shared at CAGNY last week, we are excited about the potential of the Uncrustables brand, its continued trajectory for growth, and the upcoming innovation that will expand the platform beyond peanut butter and jelly into convenient meat and cheese snacks.
As we announced last week, we made the difficult decision to discontinue Jif PowerUps early next fiscal year. Our principles of financial discipline guided this decision to reallocate resources to areas of the portfolio we believe will generate faster and greater financial returns, such as upcoming Jif innovation and the Uncrustables platform.
While PowerUps was successful in attracting new consumers to the Jif brand and will contribute approximately $20 million to net sales this year, the long-term profit projections in the competitive bar category were below our expectations and we believe this is the right long-term decision.
I will now turn to the progress made against our consumer-centric growth imperatives to lead in the best categories, build brands consumers love and be everywhere. Let me start with leading in the best categories. In coffee, this was the first quarter in five years that the category experienced retail sales contraction due to deflation. However, with the number one and number three brands in the category, we grew volume share across all formats including canister, premium bag and K-Cups.
The Dunkin' and Cafe Bustelo brands continue to perform well with increased household penetration and market share gains this quarter. In snacking, Smucker's Uncrustables is the fastest growing brand in the frozen snacks category. With the new production facility online and Phase II expansion under way, we will have ample capacity to support demand and achieve our goal to grow net sales for the Uncrustables brand to over $500 million annually in fiscal year 2023 and further expand our leadership in this category.
Turning to our strategic imperative of building brands consumers love. We are excited about our new advertising as we have now launched new campaigns for 10 of our largest brands this fiscal year. Our new advertising campaigns have received accolades across the advertising industry. Commercials for the Jif and 1850 brands received recognition as the Top 100 global ads in 2019.
While it is too early to measure the full impact of the new campaigns, indications from the launches earlier in the fiscal year are strong and correlate with recent market share gains for the Jif and Smucker's brand. Marketing spend for the quarter was 6.1% of net sales and 6.6% of net sales through the first nine months of the fiscal year. We remain committed to our investments in consumer facing marketing and continue to project marketing spend of 6.5% to 7% of net sales for the full year.
Our third growth imperative is to be everywhere. We know that consumer shop and interact with brands on-demand and across multiple channels. Therefore, we need to be wherever consumer shop and available anytime. Within the e-Commerce channel, we continue to deliver solid growth, particularly in the pet food and coffee categories.
In the third quarter, our sales to pure play e-Commerce retailers continue to grow double-digit, accounting for 5% of total U.S. retail sales. Including click and collect through traditional retailers, our e-Commerce sales account for nearly 8% of our U.S. retail sales. The 1850 brand is performing excellent online with sales quadrupling over the past year. We have also extended the brand into the Canadian and Away From Home channels.
In closing, we remain confident in our strategy and are making progress against our growth imperatives. We will continue taking decisive actions to improve performance and remain focused on a clear set of priorities, including prioritizing resource to focus on key growth opportunities including premium pet food, pet snacks, premium coffee and Uncrustables; continuing investment to reinvigorate our brands; enhancing category leadership by strengthening key consumer and customer-facing activities to build competitive advantage; and finally, practicing strict financial discipline.
This is all in addition to the leadership searches we have under way. We are actively evaluating candidates for the positions announced in mid-November. We are pleased with the quality of candidates and are confident we will fill these critical positions with leaders who will strengthen our organization. Execution on all of these actions is creating momentum for growth and increasing shareholder value.
Finally, I would like to thank all of our dedicated employees for their continued efforts which firmly position the Company for a bright future. I will now turn the call over to Mark Belgya.
Mark R. Belgya -- Vice Chair and Chief Financial Officer
Thank you, Mark. Good morning, everyone. Before discussing third quarter results, I wanted to summarize the four financial priorities we outlined last week at CAGNY; First, consistent sales and earnings growth; second, increase free cash flow; third, capital deployment in a balanced manner with approximately 50% reinvested in the business and 50% returned to shareholders, including maintaining an investment grade rating; and fourth, improvement of our return on invested capital.
We are committed to ensuring that the top line growth translates to improved earnings per share performance. As we increase marketing investments to accelerate top line growth, improve asset productivity and sharpen our spending discipline, we will deliver earnings and free cash flow growth. We have been building upon these financial priorities this year with a line of sight for momentum to continue. I encourage you to review our full CAGNY presentation available on our Investor Relations website.
Now, let me turn to third quarter results. Net sales declined 2% reflecting reduced volume mix for dog food, primarily related to private label and Natural Balance. For the balance of our portfolio, lower net pricing on coffee and peanut butter was mostly offset by increased volume mix for coffee and Smucker's Uncrustables.
Adjusted gross profit decreased $24 million from the prior year or 3%. The gross profit decline resulted from the net impact of lower pricing in excess of lower cost for coffee and peanut butter and the reduced volume mix in dog food. Adjusted operating income declined $10 million compared to the prior year, also, a decrease of 3% as the gross profit decline was partially offset by a reduction in marketing and general and administrative expenses.
Both gross profit and operating income benefited from incremental synergy realization, which has now achieved our $55 million goal. Interest expense decreased $7 million driven by a reduction in outstanding debt resulting from repayments made over the prior 12 months. Other income and expense was $7 million favorable in the quarter due to non-recurring litigation cost in the third quarter last year.
Finally, the adjusted effective income tax rate was 23.1% versus 25.8% in the prior year, reflecting final adjustments from certain new provisions of U.S. tax reform. This resulted in third quarter adjusted earnings per share of $2.35 compared to $2.26 in the prior year, an increase of 4%.
Let me now turn to segment results, beginning with pet. Net sales declined 5% compared to the prior year, driven by both branded and private label dog food. Softness in premium dog food continued as expected with a 13% decline for the Natural Balance brand and a 4% decline for the Nutrish brand.
Sales of private label products continue to be a headwind in the quarter, impacting net sales by 2%. These declines were partially offset by cat food as the Meow Mix brand continues to grow. Both our total cat portfolio and the Meow Mix brand achieved the highest quarterly net sales since we entered the pet category.
Dog snacks declined slightly compared to the prior year, primarily due to a large retailer promotion in the third quarter last fiscal year that will occur in the fourth quarter of this year. However, the MilkBone brand delivered continued growth. Pet food segment profit decreased 1% compared to the prior year. The decrease was driven by lower volume mix, which was mostly offset by an $8 million litigation settlement related to a supplier issue in the prior year and a decrease in marketing, reflecting a reduction of non-working expenses and a timing shift to the fourth quarter from new advertising.
I'll wrap up the pet segment with an item noted in our press release this morning. Due to the continued sales decline for Natural Balance in the pet specialty channel and our decision to reposition the brand within our pet food portfolio, our GAAP results included a non-cash impairment charge of $52 million attributable to the Natural Balance brand. Going forward, we anticipate ongoing work to optimize the mix of grain in and grain free offerings, a refreshed marketing campaign and sharper price points will improved trends for the brand next fiscal year.
Turning to the coffee segment; net sales were comparable to the prior year, a 5 percentage point impact from lower net price realization reflecting the pass through of lower green coffee cost by way of increased trade spend was mostly offset by favorable volume mix, particularly for Dunkin' Donuts and Cafe Bustelo brand.
Dunkin grew 4% in the quarter and Cafe Bustelo grew double-digits, with a 13% growth in the quarter. These brands mostly offset a 4% sales decline for the Folgers brand where most of the price reduction was incurred. K-Cup sales increased 7% with growth across each brand in the portfolio. Coffee segment profit increased 3%, mostly reflecting the favorable impact of volume mix and lower marketing expense, which was slightly offset by the net impact of lower pricing and lower input cost.
In Consumer Foods, net sales were comparable to the prior-year. Favorable volume mix driven by increases for the Smucker's Uncrustables and Jif brands contributed 4 percentage points. This was offset by lower net pricing, primarily attributable to the Jif brand resulting from a list price decline taken in the fourth quarter of the prior year. Uncrustables' sales growth in the segment was 29% in the quarter and 45% on a two-year stack basis.
Consumer Foods segment profit declined 12%, driven by a net unfavorable impact of lower pricing in excess of lower cost and a $7.5 million equipment write-off related to the discontinuation of Jif PowerUps, partially offset by a benefit from volume mix.
Lastly in International and Away From Home segment, net sales were comparable to the prior-year. Volume mix and net price realization were slightly unfavorable and were more than offset by favorable FX of $1 million. Segment profit decreased 7% due to the impact of lower volume mix and higher SG&A expenses.
Third quarter free cash flow was $465 million, a $132 million increase over the prior year, reflecting an increase in cash provided by operating activities and a reduction in capex, following the completion of the first phase of the Longmont, Colorado facility.
Working capital initiatives contributed a large portion of the improved cash flow in the quarter. The Company made net debt repayments of $320 million in the quarter, ending January with a total debt of just under $5.4 billion. Based on a trailing 12-month EBITDA of just over $1.6 billion, our leverage was 3.3 times. We continue to progress toward our goal of 3 times.
Let me conclude my comments with an update on our full-year outlook. As noted in this morning's press release and communicated at CAGNY, we maintain our full year guidance. Expectations are for net sales to be down 3% compared to the prior year or down 2% on an organic basis. Adjusted earnings per share is expected to be in the range of $8.10 to $8.30.
Key components include gross margin of approximately 38.2%; SD&A expenses declining approximately 2.5% compared to the prior year; interest expense at $200 million; and an effective tax rate of 24%. Our projections for free cash flow remain $850 million with capex estimated at $300 million to $320 million.
In closing, let me reiterate that we're pleased with this quarter's earnings performance and remain focused on delivering on our guidance for the year. I am confident that we have put in place the building blocks to deliver against our financial priorities; consistent earnings growth, free cash flow growth; balanced capital allocation, including de-levering of the balance sheet; and improvement of return on invested capital.
We thank you for your time this morning. We will now open the call to your questions. Operator, please queue up the first question.