Struggling soft drinks group Cott Corp has said it is pleased to be done with 2008, after seeing losses rise by around 75% for the year.

Cott Corp said today (26 February) that net loss deepened to US$124m for the year to 27 December, from $71.4m last year. Net sales revenue fell to $1.65bn, down from $1.78bn in 2007, prompting the firm's already-battered share price to fall 5% in New York by midday.

"We are glad to put 2008 behind us," said chairman David Gibbons today.

He said that Cott, which is the world's largest supplier of private label soft drinks, had begun 2009 in a more positive mood, however.

"We are now starting to see the positive results of our efforts to refocus on our private label customers in North America, the engine of our business. I believe we are healthier today than we have been in the recent past."

He added: "While the overall category continued to decline in the US, market share for our customers in the US Nielsen grocery channels increased 1.2 percentage points during the fourth quarter."

Cott reduced its fourth quarter net loss to $13m in 2008, an improvement from a loss of $75m in the same period of 2007. Net sales still fell to $371m, donw from $413m, for the period.
 
Cott's business was rocked further in January by the announced loss of an exclusive drinks supply contract with its largest customer, supemarket chain Wal-Mart, although the move will not take effect until January 2012.
 
The group last week announced that Jerry Fowden, who joined Cott to lead its UK business in 2007, would become its new global CEO.

Fowden is pinning a large part of Cott's recovery on a return to private label drinks, after a disappointing foray into brands.

He said today: "Retailers are strengthening their private label programmes as consumers look to stretch their shopping dollars.

"We will continue to support our retailers' efforts to grow private label market share, and as we mentioned, we have seen continued volume growth as we move into 2009, in addition to improved US gross margins due to higher prices."