The UK brewer Scottish & Newcastle said today that its 2003 profits before tax rose 0.9% to £471m, compared to the same period last year.

The company said the performance was driven by improving sales trends in all its major markets, UK, France, and Russia.

Chairman, Sir Brian Stewart said: "These results demonstrate a year of improving sales trends in all our major businesses. S&N has a very strong platform based around excellent brands and strong market positions. The group has a clear strategic direction and management skills to capitalise on these strengths; delivering value as it develops into one of Europe's leading brewers."

Commenting on the results, chief executive, Tony Froggatt said: "In the relatively short period since we reported our six month results in December 2003, the business has continued to make good progress. Our leading brands, Foster's, Kronenbourg, and Baltika have all grown volumes and management actions in our businesses have been taken to improve S&N's competitiveness and returns.

The priority for S&N is to focus on our existing business, building the strength of our strong brand portfolio, and increasing operational efficiency throughout the Group through greater integration of all our businesses."

The company said that trading so far in 2004 is in line with recent trends.

"For the balance of the year we anticipate reasonable market conditions, although consumer confidence remains weak, and the summer season in Western Europe is unlikely to be as buoyant as in 2003," the company said in a statement.

Turnover grew to £5,512m a rise of 17.1%, while operating profit grew 8.7% to £636m.

In 2003 underlying volumes grew by 2.4% led by its key brands Foster's which grew by 5%, Kronenbourg which grew by 4%, and Newcastle Brown Ale which grew by 9%.