Cott Corporation returned to profit in the third quarter of 2009, despite a slip in net sales for the private label soft drinks giant.

Net profits for the three months to the end of September were US$13.9m, with operating profits hitting $26.9m, compared to losses of $87.6m and $90.5m respectively in the same period of 2008, Cott Corp said today (29 October).

Net sales for the quarter slipped by nearly 4% to $404.9m. Sales rose by 1% at constant currency rates.

"This is our third consecutive quarter of year-over-year profit growth," said Cott CEO Jerry Fowden, who was appointed to the post at the start of this year.

It is the first time Cott Corp has reported a third quarter profit since 2006. 

For the first nine months of 2009, Cott reported operating profits of $83.5m and net earnings of $67.5m, against losses of $97.4m and $110.7m respectively in 2008. Nine-month net sales dipped to $1.21bn from around $1.28bn.

Losses across the group in 2008 reflected a period of significant restructuring for Cott in order to address falling soft drinks sales, particularly in its North America heartland.

"Having achieved three consecutive quarters of improved performance and a stronger balance sheet we can now turn more of our attention to new business development," said Fowden. "We've had some recent successes with new and existing customers. We expect to see the volume impact of these successes starting in 2010."

In the third quarter, Cott's soft drinks sales by volume in the UK rose 9% to 48m cases, but 4% to 141m cases in North America and by more than 18% to 5.8m cases in Mexico.

For the group's full announcement, click here.