Bottler Coca-Cola HBC posts flat sales, meets forecast

Coca-Cola HBC (CCHBC), the world’s second-largest bottler of Coca-Cola, on Thursday reported flat first-quarter sales, with strong growth in Russia offset by weaker demand in austerity-hit European Union countries.

CCHBC buys syrup concentrate from The Coca-Cola Company and bottles and distributes the U.S. group’s drinks in 28 countries from Russia to Nigeria. The first quarter traditionally accounts for a small part of full-year earnings.

Sales volume was 426.7 million unit cases in the first quarter, matching analysts’ average forecast of 426 million cases.

Government spending cuts and high unemployment in Greece and Italy, CCHBC’s second-biggest market, are hitting demand for soft drinks, eclipsing robust growth in Russia, the bottler’s biggest market.

However, cost savings helped CCHBC’s bottom line. The company narrowed its loss to 15.9 million euros ($20.45 million) from 19 million euros in the same period last year.

The reported loss excludes restructuring and other one-off items.

CCHBC has been cutting costs and adapting prices to boost profit. The bottler said it will continue this policy to deal with tough conditions for the remainder of the year.

Its board proposed a 2012 dividend of 0.34 euros per share.

CCHBC moved its headquarters to Switzerland from debt-laden Greece last month and its primary listing to London to save on taxes and improve access to capital markets.