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Makers of Guinness see sales rise 12%

Guinness-to-Johnnie Walker drinks giant Diageo today said it had seen “some signs of recovery” after 12% sales growth in the first quarter of 2010.

But the performance was flattered by sales comparisons with the depths of the recession and the firm added that “consumer trends remain difficult to predict”.

Diageo — also helped by an early Easter holiday and buying brought forward to avoid alcohol duty hikes — left its forecast of “low single digit” profits growth for the year to June unchanged.

Chief executive Paul Walsh added: “While we have seen some signs of recovery, albeit fragile in the mature markets and stronger in the emerging markets, our performance in the quarter benefited from comparison against a weak third quarter last year.”

Diageo is also behind brands including Bushmills whiskey, Harp lager, Smirnoff vodka, Captain Morgan rum, Tanqueray gin and Jose Cuervo tequila.

In Northern Ireland the global company employs 300 people across four sites. It has a state-of-the-art Baileys facility at Mallusk for worldwide export, the Old Bushmillls Distillery in Co Antrim, a bottling plant at Castlereagh and its local headquarters at Belfast’s Boucher Road.

Diageo is the largest drinks supplier to the licensed trade in the province.

Despite the company's caution, Evolution analyst Simon Hales said the performance was “impressive” with upgrades to full-year results likely following the update.

“The growth was driven by the unwinding of a 7% decline in comparable sales as the trade de-stocked a year ago,” he said.

The latest update comes after a 2% fall in underlying sales during the first half of its financial year and a 3% slide in profits to £1.63bn in tough markets.

The firm launched a major marketing drive on Guinness before Christmas to celebrate the black stuff's 250th birthday, and grew market share for wines and spirits.

The group, which was created through the merger of Grand Metropolitan and Guinness in 1997, has more than 20,000 staff and offices in 80 countries.

Its shares edged up more than 1% today.