India's United Spirits expects its volume sales to grow by 17% this year, despite the global economic downturn, company president Vijay Rekhi has told just-drinks.

Case sales are expected to reach between 100m and 105m for United Spirits' current fiscal year, which runs to the end of March 2010, Rekhi told just-drinks in an interview at this week's World Whiskies Conference in London.

United Spirits, which controls more than two thirds of India's spirits market and is part of billionaire Vijay Mallya's UB Group, increased volume sales by 20% to 90m cases in the year to the end of March.

Shrugging off concerns about the impact of the global economic downturn on India's emerging alcoholic drinks market, Rekhi said that United Spirits expects case sales to reach around 115m in two years.

If the firm's predictions for the current year and next are correct, that would mean volume growth of 10% in fiscal 2010/11.

Rekhi said that United Spirits has noticed a limited amount of downtrading on spirits by consumers in recent months, but added that the firm's brands, such as premium whisky Royal Challenge, have not been affected.

"I have heard some rumblings from our sales team, but nothing more," he said.

"It's quite possible that people will downgrade," said Rekhi, but he said that those most affected will be "companies who do not have a brand to hold on to".

He declined to comment on the progress of talks between United Spirits and Diageo, other than to state that negotiations are ongoing and that a number of other parties have also expressed interest in the Indian group.

Diageo is interested in acquiring a stake in United Spirits, in order to establish a stronger foothold in India's spirits market.

Separately, just-drinks understands from a source familiar with the situation that progress of the talks has been relatively slow.