The world's largest provider of own-label soft drink Cott Corporation has reported record sales and earnings per share for the first quarter 2004. Sales in the first quarter were up 26% to C$370.9m compared with C$295.3m last year. Earnings per diluted share were 21 cents; an increase of 40% from last year's reported 15 cents.

Excluding the impact of acquisitions and foreign exchange, sales were up 18%.

"Retailer branded soft drinks are outpacing category growth as in 2003," said Frank E. Weise, Cott's chairman and chief executive officer. "This strong performance underlines our customers' commitment to their own brand beverage programs. At the same time, these record results are a credit to Cott employees and their delivery of superior products and services."
Sales in the company's United Kingdom/Europe business unit rose 45%, up 26 per cent excluding foreign exchange. In the US business unit, sales were up 21%, up 15% excluding the impact of acquisitions. Canada saw a 25% increase in sales, up 9 per cent excluding the impact of foreign exchange; and sales for the international business unit doubled to C$14.7m, of which sales in Mexico amounted to C$9m.
John K. Sheppard, Cott president and chief operating officer, said: "Our customer-centric approach to the business continues to make a significant impact across all business units."

He added that sales growth in the company's US business unit was driven by new product development and merchandising programs, while in Canada it was as a result of Cott's continued efforts in the grocery channels.

In the UK business unit, sales were up in all channels and were also favourably affected by the impact of the Nichols business. Sales in Mexico were up almost threefold, as customers there continue to demonstrate their commitment to building their retailer branded soft drink programmes