Belvédère Group has confirmed it has held talks with a major distillery in Russia in an effort to "strengthen its position in the vodka market".

The France-based spirits and wine company said yesterday (16 April) that it has "had discussions with the owners of one of the main distilleries in Russia about terms and conditions of a possible combination".

The company added: "If the project should bear fruit, it would allow Belvédère to strengthen its position very significantly in the world's number one vodka market."

Belvédère declined to comment on further details about the discussions when contacted by just-drinks today.

However, a local press report said that the French group was in discussions to buy a Kaluga-based distillery that was part of a chain run by Russia's leading vodka producer Kristall.

In a statement today, Belvédère reiterated that undertaking new acquisitions remains contingent on successfully completing its programme to divest non-strategic assets presented last June.

The plan, which provides for the sale of three assets, is two-thirds completed with the sale of its non-alcoholic beverage business of Marie Brizard for EUR178m in September 2007 and the US vinegar business for US$30m in early April.

"Sale of the third asset (a parcel of seven hectars in Krakow) is presently underway and remains one of our group's major short-term objectives," the company said.

In February, Belvédère announced that net sales for 2007 leapt by 35.3% on the year before, coming in at EUR1.04bn (US$1.53bn), thanks in part to the acquisition of Florida Distillers Co. from Vin & Sprit Group in April. Stripping out the purchase, as well as the acquisition of a Polish distributor last year, sales for 2007 were up by 16.3% to EUR593.4m.