Pernod Ricard, the French drinks group, has reported sales for 2001 of €4.55 billion  (US$3.97 billion), excluding duties and tax, up 3.9% on the year before. The rise was driven by solid growth from the company's key drinks brands.

Sales in the spirits and wine sector totalled €1.92 billion, an increase of 9.1%. In a statement, Pernod said that organic growth of wines and spirits was 8.3%. Total organic growth was 6%.

Pernod's ten key brands saw accelerating growth, now at 9% compared to 6% in 2000, driven in particular by Jacob's Creek, the Australian wine brand, which was up 19%, Ramazzotti, up 17%, and Havana Club, up 13%.

The company said its whiskies and pastis brands also performed well.

The late date of the Seagram deal - it was finally completed on 21st December - meant that the operations and brands acquired from it have not yet been consolidated into the group.

However, Pernod reported that of the main brands acquired, Chivas Regal showed 2% growth, while Martell and Seagram's Gin recorded declines of 2% and 4.4% respectively. The figures are a moving annual total from December 2000-November 2001.

Pernod said that operational integration of the Seagram assets had largely been completed, with sales of the Seagram brands now under the French company's control in all major markets. The exceptions are Korea and Venezuela where the company is having to set up new organisations, expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter.

Patrick Ricard, Group Chairman and CEO, said: "The integration of the Seagram networks, brands and employees is proceeding very smoothly. We expect to see rapid benefits for our key brands in all regions of the world. Furthermore, our disposal program is proceeding for both our non-strategic operations and those Seagram brands that we did not intend to retain. I am very confident about the future of our Group."

Meanwhile, two investment houses have downgraded their recommendations with regard to French drinks combine, Pernod Ricard. Schroder Salomon Smith Barney said it had cut its recommendation on Pernod Ricard to "underperform" from "neutral".

Meanwhile, UBS Warburg said it had cut its investment rating for the group from "buy" to "hold" and raised its price target from EUR85 to EUR87. On Wednesday morning, Pernod Ricard shares were 1.05% down at EUR85.