December 6, 2016 / 10:22 AM / 8 months ago

Pernod Ricard confident on goals for top U.S. market

* Pernod shares down around 7 pct in 2016

* Pernod posted higher Q1 sales in October

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Pernod Ricard is confident of hitting its goal for "mid-single digit" sales growth this financial year in its top U.S. market, which spurred sales growth in its first quarter.

The world's second-biggest spirits group after Diageo made the prediction in slides on its website on Tuesday ahead of a conference call on its North American business.

In October, Pernod reported a stronger-than-expected 4 percent rise in first-quarter underlying sales, helped by growth in the United States and improving demand in China.

Pernod said in the slides its main growth driver was Jameson Irish whiskey, while there was also strong growth at brands such as Malibu rum, Martell cognac and Altos tequila.

The company reiterated it aimed to stabilise sales of its key Absolut vodka brand, estimated by analysts at investment bank Jefferies to make about 30 percent of Pernod's U.S. sales, in the medium-term.

Absolut has been struggling as consumers have turned to rival spirits such as bourbon and more niche vodka brands such as Texas-based Tito's Handmade Vodka.

Pernod has been trying to revive the brand through the launch of luxury vodka Absolut Elyx, new packaging, and streamlining its flavoured vodka range.

Pernod shares were up 0.7 percent in early trading.

The stock is down around 7 percent since the start of 2016, underperforming a 1 percent fall on France's benchmark CAC equity index, while the broader STOXX Europe 600 Food & Beverages index is down 10 percent this year. (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Mark Potter)

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