Coke bottler raises outlook for year

While the economy remains uncertain, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Enterprises, the largest bottler of Coke products, raised its profit forecast for the year based on another strong quarter of profit growth.

CCE reported Wednesday third-quarter revenues of $5.57 billion, down 3 percent from the same period a year ago. Net profit, though, rose 15 percent to $247 million. Results were helped by efficiency initiatives, lower commodity costs used to make its products and an improved mix of price and package combinations.

Earnings per share, excluding one-time costs, were 51 cents, 5 cents higher than analyst projections, according to a Thomson Reuters survey.

CCE said it now expects to have full-year earnings in the range of $1.54 to $1.57 per share, up from a previously projected $1.44 to $1.49 per share.

CCE is managing a challenging environment, Chairman and CEO John Brock said in a press conference with analysts.

“We are pleased with our progress thus far and believe our results this year demonstrate our ability to grow over the long-term,” Brock said.

CCE posted strong results in Europe, where third-quarter volume rose 4 percent. The company’s trademark Coca-Cola soft-drinks grew 4.5 percent, including more than 15 percent growth for Coke Zero.

CCE’s volume fell 10 percent in North America. CCE executives said the decline was partially caused by a combination of special factors – a shift in the 4th of July to the second quarter, comparison to a period last year that benefited from Olympic promotions and a continued decline in sales of low-priced bulk waters.

Despite the drop in volume, CCE’s North American business posted an increase in operating profits. The company said efforts to broaden package offerings are paying off.

CCE last year introduced a 99-cent, 16-ounce bottle that’s sold well at convenience stores. A 2-liter contour bottle, already offered in the Southeast, also is helping lift sales as it is introduced to new markets.

CCE expected this year to have some ups and downs with a difficult third quarter, said Steve Cahillane, head of CCE North America.  A series of major holidays -- Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas -- could  help as CCE closes out the year.

"We’re optimistic the fourth quarter will from a volume perspective be better, but it’s still pretty early in the day," Cahillane said.

CCE Third-Quarter Highlights

Net income rose 15 percent to $247 million while revenue fell 3 percent to $5.57 billion. Revenue was flat excluding the negative impact of foreign currency exchange rates.

European volume rose 4 percent, driven by strong results from the core Coca-Cola soft-drinks and the addition of some water brands.

North America volume fell 10 percent but operating profits improved thanks to cost-cutting efforts, lower commodity prices and a better mix of price and package combinations.