The German juice and spirits company, Eckes Group, has announced that it is to pull out of the alcoholic drinks business. The company said it expected to improve profitability by concentrating on its fruit juice and nectars business, with the spirits arena becoming increasingly competitive.

"We found we needed to focus to compete," said Eckes CEO, Herbert Verse. "Margins have been reduced by the expanding chains and big discounters. There have also been a lot of mergers which allow competitors to feed more money into big advertising campaigns."

Verse said the company was not yet in negotiations with any potential buyers. However, he did say that the money generated by the sell-off would be used to expand the company's fruit juice business across Europe.

Included in the sale will be the company's subsidiaries, Stock Plzen, the largest spirits company in the Czech Republic, Stock Austria and Stock S.p.A. in Italy.

Stock Plzen sold 26.2m litres of spirits last year and has more than a 30% share of the Czech spirits market. Stock S.p.A. posted a net profit of €2.3m ($2.2m) on sales of €93m ($91.2m) in 2001, while Stock Austria generated a turnover of €40.7m in 2001. Stock Austria's own brands include Stock VSOP, Bouchet, Grappa Julia, Mautner Vodka and Mautner Rum and it also distributes Campari, Cynar, Absolut Vodka, Fernet Branca, Jim Beam and Bols.

As a whole, Eckes Group recorded revenues of €1.3 billion ($1.27 billion) in 2001, with alcoholic beverages accounting for almost a third of sales.