Danone predicts growth for 2004 after reporting higher 2003 operating results. The group, whose operating profit last year reached €1.604 billion, up from €1.590 billion year-on-year, forecasts full year operating margin growth for 2004 of 40 basis points.

Net profit fell to €839m for 2003, a drop of 34.6% from €1.28 billion year-on-year. However, taking out Danone's one-off gain from the 2002 sale of European beer activities to Scottish & Newcastle, net profit actually rose by 1.3%. Excluding the S&N sale, earnings per share for the French company rose by 5.6% to €6.45. Sales for the year fell to €13.131 billion from €13.555 billion in 2002. Fourth Quarter sales, however, grew by 4.7%.

Danone expects 2004 organic sales to grow by between 5% and 7%.

At its AGM on 15 April, the company will ask shareholders to approve a two-for-one stock split, as well as a dividend of €2.45 per share, a rise from 6.5% on the previous year.