The soft drink bottler Coca-Cola Enterprises today reported net income for the third-quarter 2003 of US$259m, an increase on the US$190m in the same period last year.

For the first nine months of 2003, net income totalled US$545m, compared to US$414m last year.

Third-quarter 2003 operating income grew 19% over the prior year to US$524m.

The company said that operating income results for 2003 reflected strong year-over-year growth in Europe, meaningful pricing initiatives and moderating operating expense trends in North America.

"Our third-quarter results reflect our unwavering commitment to North American and European pricing improvement and our ability to successfully manage growth in operating expenses," said Lowry F. Kline, chairman and chief executive officer. "Based on our strong third quarter performance, which includes the continued benefits of favorable interest rates and currency translations, we have now increased our expectations for reported 2003 earnings per share to a range of $1.31 to $1.33."

Consolidated volumes increased 2.5% for the third quarter, and 2% for the first nine months. North American volume grew 0.5% percent in the third quarter partly due to strong sales of Dasani, growth in diet brands, including diet Vanilla Coke, and lemon-lime category growth from the introduction of Sprite Remix.

This, apparently, offset slower sales of flavoured drinks, and the extraordinary volume generated by the introduction of Vanilla Coke in 2002.

In Europe, record-setting hot weather for much of the quarter, coupled with the success of new brand introductions and local marketing programs, resulted in a 10% volume increase during the third quarter. For the year, Europe's volume has grown more than 7.5%. The company said it estimated approximately 2% of Europe's year-to-date growth is attributable to this summer's heat.

"Throughout the year in North America, we've worked diligently to improve our pricing and will continue these efforts in the months ahead," said John R. Alm, president and chief operating officer. "These efforts are integral to our success, and as we move into 2004, we will implement expanded revenue management strategies, which include improving pricing consistency throughout our territories.

"Throughout our European territories, we continue to create an increasingly stronger soft drink culture through execution against our core brands and new brand initiatives, such as Vanilla Coke and diet Vanilla Coke," Alm said. "Looking beyond the short-term benefit of Europe's unprecedented weather, per capita consumption continues to grow as we steadily improve our brand portfolio to respond to changing consumer tastes."

Looking forward the company said full-year 2003 earnings per share are now expected in a range of $1.31 to $1.33, including favourable items totalling 3 cents per share. Full-year 2003 volume growth is expected to total 1% to 2%.

Full-year 2003 North American volume is expected to be approximately flat versus prior year, with volume in Europe up approximately 5% to 6%. Operating income is expected to total US$1.46 billion to $1.48 billion.