Making the first public forecast of McCormick & Co. profits, its executives predicted today that the Baltimore spice maker will earn $2.20 a share in profits this year -- almost 70 percent more than in 1980.

McCormick Chairman Harry K. Wells offered the optimistic projection at the company's annual meeting in apparent anticipation of complaints about last year's earnings, which were down 23 percent from 1979.

McCormick's management was on the defensive for much of the meeting as stockholders second-guessed the company's choice of routes at several corporate crossroads:

McCormick should have accepted an offer last year to sell control of the business to Sandoz, the Swiss drug company, stockholders complained.

McCormick ought to spin off its real estate operations to cash in on undervalued land assets, urged half a dozen dissidents.

They also contended the company should put at least one outsider on the board of directors, let holders of all classes of stock vote in corporate elections, raise its dividend and do something to boost the price of the stock. e

Braced for the attacks, Wells and President Hillsman V. Wilson outlined a corporate growth strategy they said will enable McCormick to nearly double its sales and become a $1-billion-a-year business within four or five years.

"We think we're going to grow," Wells said after a shareholder complained about the current $20 price of McCormick shares. "We think your shares that are $20 today are going to be a heck of a lot more in a few years." s

"We're not interested in the quick buck today at the expense of real, long-term growth," he said. McCormick's avowed goal is a 10-percent-a-year growth after discounting inflation, boosting profit margins to 5 percent of sales and achieving a return on invested capital of between 18 percent and 20 percent.

First-quarter profits jumped 135 percent from $1.5 million (13 cents a share) last year to $3.5 million (32 cents), while sales climbed from $115.8 million to $134.5 million.

Wilson said the improved first-quarter results do not fully reflect the recent acquisition of Setco, a California producer of plastic bottles, and Stange Co., a Chicago flavoring maker specializing in industrial products.

Expanding McCormick's food-manufacturing-ingredient business and its restaurant-supply operations ought to improve profits, Wilson said.

"We are prepared to supply these seasoning and flavoring products in whatever form is needed from totally natural to totally synthetic," he added. "We expect [profit] margins to improve from their current levels as we move toward more proprietary seasoning and flavorings and away from natural ingredients."

McCormick would have lost its management independence if executives had accepted last year's offer to sell to Sandoz, and the financial base for the company's expansion would be weakened if the real estate operations were spun off, Wells insisted.

He rejected a request for a show of hands to indicate how many of those at the meeting would have accepted the Sandoz offer and debated with shareholder C. Edward Walter of Columbia, Md., over a resolution urging appointment of an outsider to McCormick's board, which now is composed exclusively of management members.

Walter, who proposed the change, charged that many McCormick stockholders are disenfranchised because they own nonvoting stock and said their interests could be served by an independent director.

Owners of about 7 percent of the voting stock cast ballots for the outside director.