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UK sales buoy Britvic but Irish market 'challenging'

THE "challenging" Irish market remained Britvic's poorest performer in the final months of 2009, as sales here continued to fall while the rest of the group mounted a recovery.

The drinks giant's AGM was told yesterday that Britvic Ireland's contribution to its parent dropped 3pc to £48.4m in the three month period to December 31.

The fall came as sales of Britvic Ireland's owned-brand drinks -- including Robinsons', 7UP, Club Orange and Ballygowan -- fell by 4pc in volume and by 3.4pc in value terms.

Overall sales at the Britvic group were up a consensus-beating 11pc year-on-year for the 12 weeks to December 20 driven, in particular, by a strong performance from Britvic's Great Britain division.

The contrast between Britvic Ireland's performance and that of the rest of the group in the full-year to September was stark -- with Irish revenue dropping 5.6pc while Great Britain and international sales rose 8.7pc.

UK brokers Cazenove told clients the Irish performance was "ahead of our expectations" despite its continuing under-performance relative to the group.

In yesterday's management statement, Britvic stressed that its falls in Ireland came against a 12.8pc fall in the grocery market here. The Irish division "broadly held its share" in the grocery market while "significantly gaining share" in the under-pressure licensed premises market, the statement added.

Britvic also stressed that the Irish market was "expected to remain challenging" through 2010, but a glimmer of hope came from confirmation that "planned synergies" from the Irish division's transformation plan were "fully on track" to yield results in 2010/11.

Britvic's overall results beat consensus, but the drinks giant moved to dampen any upgrades by stressing that, although the crucial Great Britain market, was expected to "demonstrate resilience" in the year ahead, the second quarter was likely to show a "relative slowing of the rate of growth".

Irish Independent