The Greek-based soft drink bottler Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling (CCHBC) saw its full year volumes increase 7% over last year to 1,359m unit cases. The increase drove a 15% increase in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) to €665m.

Net profit leapt to €115m, substantially ahead of the €35m in 2002.

Doros Constantinou, managing director of Coca-Cola HBC, said: "During 2003, CCHBC's overall performance improved significantly, as measured by each of our key financial metrics, volume growth, operating margins, profitability, cash flows from operating activities and return on invested capital.

"Of note was the turnaround in the Italian market and the strong performance in Russia which, despite unfavourable weather conditions, recorded its first net profit. Our focus on world-class market execution, revenue management and tight operational control has enabled us to deliver these strong results. We finished 2003 in a solid position, with plans to continue execution of our clear and successful strategy. "

In a statement, the company said that low per capita consumption in its developing and emerging market segments had helped grow volume in the carbonated beverages segment by 3% in its territories excluding Nigeria.

In the noncarbonated segment, volume grew by 42% (25% growth excluding acquisition volume) in 2003 and now accounts for 19% of the business.

CCHBC said that the hot summer was a positive factor in Italy's strong performance. And while, volume in Greece was flat for the year, it anticipates a return of volume growth in 2004.

"We have finished 2003 on a strong note and plan to continue execution of our successful strategy. 2004 is an important year for us since eight of our countries within the developing markets will be joining the EU in May," the company said.

"Although, this will be positive in the medium to long-term, it will present us with certain challenges in the short-term. We have taken certain actions around pricing, cost management particularly for key raw materials and cross-border supply initiatives to help smooth the transition."

CCHBC said it maintained a positive outlook for 2004 in line with long- term objectives of volume growth of 6% - 8% and EBITDA growth of 10% - 12%.