The French wine and spirits group, Pernod Ricard said today that its consolidated sales for the first quarter fell to €726m, compared to €740m for the same period last year, as the group continued to disengage itself from non-strategic activities, and was hit by the weak dollar.

Wine & Spirits sales (excluding duties and taxes) for the period amounted to €704m, compared to €713m for the same period last year. However, on a constant structure and exchange rate basis, sales increased by 5.4%.

Volume growth was more encouraging with the company's 12 key brands increasing by 7.3%, with Chivas Regal  up 8%, Martell up 6%, The Glenlivet  up 8%, Jameson up 14% and Havana Club up 14%.

In a statement Pernod said that the two key growth drivers were Asia and North America.

The Asia-Pacific and Rest of World region experienced the greatest progression, posting a 12.9% organic sales growth rate. China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore progressed strongly thanks to Chivas and Martell sales. The strong development of local brands enabled India and Thailand to enjoy double digit sales growth.

North America also achieved a strong performance (+8.6% organic growth rate). In the US, Chivas and Martell depletions were positive. South and Central America posted contrasting performances (+0.6% organic growth rate), with the turnaround of operations in Brazil and Argentina offset by a disappointing performance in Venezuela.

Pernod also said there were the beginnings of a recovery in France, which achieved an organic growth rate of + 4.6%, partially as a result of technical effects. Ricard, Jameson, Havana Club, Chivas, Aberlour and Wyborowa achieved good performances.

The rest of Europe was a mixed bag, with Greece, Italy and Scandinavia enjoying good growth, while the UK, Ireland and Spain had more modest growth. Different non-recurring factors adversely affected this region's performance during the 1st quarter of 2004, without impacting its full year growth prospects.

"As a result, this favourable beginning of year strengthens the group's confidence for 2004," the statement said.