Scottish & Newcastle has had an "encouraging start" to 2007, according to the brewer's chairman.

Speaking at today's (26 April) AGM, Sir Brian Stewart said that the company had got off to a good start this year, with good weather in the UK, Europe and Russia helping matters.

"Brands and innovation continue to be strong drivers for growth, with successes in individual markets now being applied to other countries," Sir Brian said.

The upturn in the weather in the UK during March has seen S&N's three main beer brands - Foster's Kronenbourg 1664 and John Smith's take market share, but Sir Brian warned of the effects of the smoking ban, set to be introduced in England on 1 July.

Although good weather helped in France, the brewer warned that trading in the wholesale business in the country is "challenging and remains a focus going forward".

In China, the company reiterated its intention to rebuild its stake in its joint venture in the country, Chongqing Breweries. Two years ago, S&N bought a 19.5% stake in Chongqing, but it has has seen its holding diluted to 17.5% as shares in the Chinese brewer have been issued to public shareholders.

In Russia, meanwhile, beer sales benefited from milder weather in the quarter.

"Whilst financial expenses will be adversely affected by increasing interest rates and higher levels of investment in Baltic Beverages Holding, we remain confident that performance for the full year will meet expectations for the group as a whole," Sir Brian concluded.