* Q3 sales 269.1 mln euros, down 1 pct l-f-l
* Q3 cognac sales up 0.4 pct vs -11.8 pct in Q2
* Eyes growth in full year organic sales, operating profit (Adds details)
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Remy Cointreau on Thursday reported third quarter cognac sales well ahead of forecasts, driven by robust demand for premium qualities in the United States while shipments to China improved on weak year-ago comparables.
The French spirits group, whose premium cognac is suffering from a Chinese government crackdown on ostentatious spending, kept its target of delivering organic growth in full year sales and current operating profit for the year to end-March 31.
The maker of Remy Martin cognac, Cointreau liqueur and Mount Gay Rum said group sales reached 269.1 million euros ($311.73 million) in the three months to Dec 31, for an organic decline of 1 percent, compared with a fall of 5.5 percent in the second quarter.
Cognac sales, which account for more than half the company’s revenue, rose 0.4 percent year-on-year in the quarter, a marked improvement from an 11.8 percent fall in the second quarter and a 15.3 percent decline in the first quarter.
The cognac figures were well above analysts’ expectations of a 5-6 percent organic decline for the quarter.
The group however benefited from weak comparables as cognac sales fell 32 percent in the year-ago quarter.
Like rivals Diageo and Pernod Ricard, Remy has been hit by the Chinese curbs on spending by civil servants, as well as slowing economic growth in the world’s second-biggest economy.
All three drink companies have however forecast improving sales this year.
Remy Chouteau’s focus has been on deluxe drinks like Louis XIII cognac, which sells for 2,500 euros a bottle. This has made it more vulnerable than its rivals to China’s crackdown.
The liqueurs and spirits division recorded an 0.1 percent rise in like-for-like sales, bolstered by solid demand for Cointreau in the United States, France, Australia and Japan retail, while the Meta liquor grew in Greece and Germany and in Central Europe.
Remy shares have gained 12 percent this year, outperforming a 6 percent rise in the STOXX Europe Food & Beverage index . ($1 = 0.8633 euros) (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Stephen Coates and Andrew Callus)