Sales of soft drink Irn-Bru rose by 8% last year, adding more evidence that some parts of the UK soft drinks industry have remained relatively resilient to the economic downturn.

Irn-Bru's boost lifted owner AG Barr to a 6.6% increase in underlying sales for its full-year, the group announced yesterday (30 March).

Irn-Bru's success came as the UK soft drinks market fell by 2.2% in volume and was flat on an overall value basis for 2008, said AG Barr, citing Nielsen data.

AG Barr has often made much of its claim that Irn-Bru is more popular than Coca-Cola in its native Scotland.

The brand's revenue performance in 2008 was as much due to growth south of the border in England as it was to loyalty among diehard fans, however.

"The Irn-Bru brand is now stepping up to face the future on a national basis with real momentum from a strong base," said Barr, which added that 2008 marked its highest annual promotional spend on Irn-Bru to date.

Barr signed a sponsorship deal for the brand with the Scottish Football League last year, while, more recently, Barr announced that Irn-Bru will sponsor Rugby League's Superleague in 2009. It has signed a three-year deal.

In addition, the brand will sponsor Rugby League coverage on Sky Sports. "This coverage will reach over 10m consumers over the course of the season and is designed to reinforce our growing position on a national basis," said Barr.

Irn-Bru's growth, plus the Rubicon juice acquisition last summer, pushed AG Barr to a 14% sales rise to GBP169.7m (US$240.7m) for 2008.

Sales in the first weeks of 2009 are ahead of last year, the group said, adding: "Our core brands have never been stronger; increasingly consumers from all areas of the UK and from many differing ethnic backgrounds prefer our diverse range of unique brands."