December 13, 2018 / 9:26 AM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 1-Pernod Ricard confident on sales growth outlook in U.S

* Goal still to stabilize U.S. Absolut vodka sales

* Elliott said Pernod lost market share in some key areas (Adds details and background)

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS, Dec 13 (Reuters) - French drinks group Pernod Ricard , which is being targeted by activist hedge fund Elliott, said on Thursday it was on track to achieve its medium-term goal of mid-single digit sales growth in the United States, which is its top market.

Earlier this week, Elliott disclosed a stake of just over 2.5 percent in Pernod Ricard and called on the family-backed company to boost profit margins and improve returns for investors.

Elliott also said Pernod had lost market share across key segments of its brand portfolio, but Pernod rebutted this criticism as it held an investor presentation.

Pernod reiterated on Thursday that its medium-term objective remained to stabilise its Absolut vodka brand in the United States. Meanwhile Jameson Irish whiskey will continue to grow at double-digit rates, it added.

In the United States, where Pernod makes 19 percent of its sale, the group has achieved underlying sales growth of 4 percent in fiscal year 2017/18, broadly in line with the growth of the U.S. market.

Pernod Ricard’s largest brand Absolut vodka has, however, struggled in the U.S. amid competitive price pressures and as trendy drinkers have turned to spirits such as bourbon and niche vodka brands like Texas-based Tito’s Handmade vodka.

Pernod shares were down by 0.3 percent in early session trading, with the stock having rallied 5.9 percent in the previous day on the back of Elliott’s interest in Pernod. (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

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