V&S Absolut Spirits saw sales of its flagship vodka Absolut rise 9% last year on the back of surging sales outside the US.

The company, a unit of Swedish drinks giant V&S Group, said today (31 January) that global sales reached 9m nine-litre cases, making Absolut the third-largest global spirit brand.

V&S has focused on growing Absolut sales outside the US and said sales outside its core market rose 18% last year. Mexico was the brand's fastest-growing market, with sales soaring 67%. Nevertheless, Absolut sales were up in the US, rising 2.4% in a fiercely competitive spirits market.

V&S Absolut Spirits saw profits for its wider operations - which also include Plymouth gin and Cruzan rum - leap 13% to SEK1.75bn (US$229.1m).

Ketil Eriksen, who heads the business unit, said: "Absolut is growing at a full 9% in 2005, which is the strongest growth in the 2000s. The business area is also delivering dramatically improved profit and strengthened margins.

"Our strategy to grow outside the US has paid off. We see a very positive development in several markets outside the US. In some Western European and Asian markets, the growth is even two- digit. In spite of the tough competition in the US, we're selling more vodka there than ever before."