Britvic profits fizz in spite of Ireland gloom

SHARES in Tango-to-Robinsons beverage maker Britvic soared yesterday to their highest point in almost a year, after the firm posted a 16.3 per cent hike in half-year profits and said the UK soft drinks market had turned a corner.<br /><br />The group&rsquo;s pre-tax profit before exceptionals rose to &pound;20m for the six months to 12 April, from &pound;17.2m last year. Post-exceptionals, profit came in at &pound;7.2m, up 1.4 per cent on 2008, while revenues rose 6.3 per cent to &pound;483.2m. The group increased its interim dividend by 7.9 per cent to 4.1p.<br /><br />Britvic said demand for soft drinks had improved since the beginning of the year, with sales in the UK take-home market remaining flat in the last month, compared to a fall of 2.1 per cent over the past 12 weeks and 3 per cent over the period as a whole.<br /><br />&ldquo;As we look at the whole market we have begun to see some modest recovery in growth,&rdquo; said chief executive Paul Moody.<br /><br />&ldquo;Soft drinks has been a resilient category in the face of the downturn, especially the brands,&rdquo; he added.<br /><br />The group&rsquo;s shares rose 12.74 per cent to close at 303p over the course of trading yesterday.<br /><br />Profit at Britvic&rsquo;s British and international businesses grew 17.7 per cent over the half year, though its Irish unit, which took a severe hit after the country&rsquo;s economy was left reeling from the economic crisis, only managed to break even.<br /><br />Moody said it remains cautious about the Irish business for the rest of 2009 and 2010, as consumers trade down to value-for-money non-branded goods in the downturn.<br /><br />&ldquo;We see no evidence at present of any upturn in the Irish soft drinks market,&rdquo; he said, adding that Britvic had implemented a strict cost-saving strategy at the division, where it recently announced 145 job cuts.