Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated  has posted a large drop in full year earnings. The company said yesterday (23 February) that it earned US$21.8m or US$2.41 per share for fiscal year 2004. These results compare to US$30.7m or US$3.40 per share for fiscal year 2003.

Net sales for the company grew by approximately 4% in 2004 reflecting flat bottle/can volume, a 3% increase in average revenue per case and higher contract sales to other bottlers. Income from operations in 2004 rose by 1.3% year-on-year to $84.3m.

In a statement, J. Frank Harrison, III, chairman and CEO, said: "The company's financial performance in 2004 reflects a continuing softness in the largest component of the company's business, sugar carbonated soft drinks. The softness in sugar CSDs was only partially offset by strong performance in diet CSDs, water, juice and isotonic beverages. Although volume was soft in 2004, the company held its income from operations flat with the prior year through a combination of targeted price increases, lower capital spending and expense management.

"The volume softness we experienced in sugar CSDs is largely a function of shifts in consumer preferences; however, the company's success also depends on more impactful innovation and marketing investment from The Coca-Cola Company. I am encouraged with the new leadership at The Coca-Cola Company and believe they are committed to increasing marketing investments and delivering innovation in 2005 to rekindle growth in CSDs.

"Although our operating results were essentially flat with last year, we continue to generate strong cash flow, as indicated by the significant US$95m reduction in debt during the year."

William B. Elmore, president and COO, added: "While we continued to experience softness in our sugar CSD volume, our diet CSD's and our Fanta flavour line performed quite well. We also experienced solid growth in our noncarbonated portfolio of drinks, led by a 23% increase in PowerAde. Our Dasani water business also grew at 5% in spite of intensified competitive pricing pressure.

"Clearly we are excited about the improved marketing support from The Coca-Cola Company. At the same time, we remain sharply focused on improving our manufacturing, distribution and delivery processes to efficiently support the growing assortment of products and packages."