UK soft drinks group Nichols has reported a "strong" start to the year, driven by sales of its flagship Vimto brand, the company announced at its AGM today (20 May).

John Nichols, group non-executive chairman, said that Vimto sales increased 11.8% in the 12 weeks to 18 April 2009, against a total UK soft drinks market increase of 0.6%.

He added that the company expects first-half sales to benefit from the earlier timing of Ramadan in 2009 over 2008. Vimto, a non-alcoholic fruit drink, is consumed widely in the Middle East during Ramadan.

In the UK Nichols praised the company's growth against a backdrop of recession and a tough economic climate.

The company's new Vimto TV advertising campaign for 2009 is scheduled to begin on 5 June, aimed at "reinforcing brand recognition" amongst its target audiences.

Nichols' dispense operation, which includes the recently acquired Dayla business, has also started the year well and is trading ahead of internal expectations, the company said.

"At this early stage, we are pleased with the group's continued progress and we are confident of delivering both sales and earnings growth in line with expectations for the full-year," Nichols said.

The firm saw its profits fall by nearly 50% in 2008 due to a write-down charge on its Panda drinks brand.