Ito En, Japan's leading producer of green-tea drinks, has enjoyed a rise in first-half sales and earnings.

The company said yesterday (4 December) that operating profit for the six months ending 31 October rose 7.4% to JPY12.9bn (US$112.6m). Sales were up 5.2% to JPY162.6bn.

Ito En's results come amid growing competition in Japan's ready-to-drink tea sector. Coca-Cola Co. and Kirin Brewery have launched a raft of tea drinks, while retail chain 7-Eleven now sells a range of own-brand teas.

Last month, the company moved to diversify its business with the acquisition of a majority stake in a large Japanese coffee shop chain.

In the last six months, Ito En has also moved to expand its presence overseas. In June, it bought Florida-based Mason Distributors, a deal that allows the company to sell to over 5,000 outlets.