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The world's largest producer of own-label soft drinks, Cott Corporation, has reported sales of $1.4 billion and earnings per diluted share of $1.09 for the full year 2003, driven by strong fourth quarter results which included an extra week as compared to the same quarter last year.

The company said that it has seen improved performance across all its business units, in what was its fifth consecutive year of increasing profitable performance.

"We are seizing the future," said Frank E. Weise, chairman, and chief executive officer. "Thanks to superb performances by Cott employees in each of our businesses, 2003 has been a year of outstanding growth for our company. As we look ahead we see even more opportunities: to win new customers, to develop new products and to make new acquisitions."

In the fourth quarter, sales totaled a record US$344.6m, 23% better than for the same period last year and up by 18% excluding the impact of foreign exchange. The increase was led by the company's UK/Europe business unit where sales rose by 37%, up 25% excluding foreign exchange.

Sales in the US business unit were up by 21%; Canada saw a 12% increase, down 6% when the impact of foreign exchange is included; and sales for the international business unit doubled to US$12.4m, of which sales in Mexico amounted to US$8.4m.

Operating income for the fourth quarter increased by 25% to US$32.9m, including a one-time charge of US$2.6m as a result of asset impairments.

"These strong results set a new benchmark for our management team," said Weise, "and I believe that 2004 is bursting with opportunities for the company to achieve new heights in the year ahead."

John K. Sheppard, named president and chief operating officer in July 2003, said: "As our 2003 results indicate, opportunities beckon in the United Kingdom and Mexico, and in North America where we are strengthening the coordination of plants and marketing programs that link the United States and Canada. Cott people can take pride in special recognition of the company over the past year. Noteworthy was the Canadian CEO of the Year award presented to Frank Weise which honors the achievements of everyone who works for Cott."

Weise repeated the company's previously announced guidance. Sales growth of 10% to 12% is anticipated, with EBITDA expected to be between US$218 and US$222m and earnings per diluted share expected to be in the range of $1.18 to $1.22. Capital spending is expected to be approximately US$55m.


Sectors: Soft drinks

Companies: Cott Corporation

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