Soft drinks group, Coca-Cola Co., has said it expects worldwide sales volumes to increase by 4% to 5% for the first quarter, in line with analysts' forecasts. The improvement comes principally from improved growth in the US, which has compensated for a weaker performance from certain international markets particularly in Latin America.

The company said it eventually hopes to reach annual worldwide unit-case growth of between 5% and 6% but the weak global economic conditions would make that hard to achieve this year.

Strong sales growth, in the region of 4% to 5%, is expected in the first quarter from North America, which accounts for around 30% of the company's business. Coke attributed the advance to one-off marketing activities during the Winter Olympics and continued strong growth for Dasani bottled water and Minute Maid Lemonade, which was launched last year.

The growth in North America compensates for a less satisfactory performance from Latin America. Sales in Latin America are expected to be about 1% down having been hit by currency devaluations. However, the company is expected to report reasonably robust growth from other international markets. European, Eurasian and Middle Eastern markets are all expected to be up in the region of 5% to 6% while Africa and Asia are expected to have risen by 9% to 10%.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola's largest bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., is forecasting volume growth of about 5% for the first quarter in its markets, which include North America and parts of Europe. Volumes are expected to be up by 4% in North America and by more than 6% in Europe.