PARIS (AP) -- French wine and spirits group Pernod Ricard SA said Thursday its sales fell 6 percent in the first quarter as crisis-hit European drinkers poured fewer bottles of its cognacs, whiskeys and vodkas.

The Paris-based distiller of Absolut vodka, Jameson Irish whiskey and Havana Club rum reported sales of ¤1.65 billion ($2.5 billion) in the July to September period, down from ¤1.76 billion a year earlier.

In a statement Thursday, Pernod Ricard blamed the continued economic crisis for the fall in demand, saying Europe was the region most affected by the slump. Sales fell 18 percent in Europe during the quarter, Pernod Ricard said, far outpacing the 2 percent slip in sales it reported at home and in the Americas.

Pernod Ricard said sales of its 15 "strategic brands," which include Jacob's Creek Australian wine, Ballantine's scotch and Beefeater gin, fell 5 percent in value and 9 percent by volume during the quarter, with the weak economy especially hurting sales of its Mumm and Perrier-Jouet champagnes.

The company also warned that sales for the October to December period face a difficult comparison with its performance in the same period last year, when sales jumped 14 percent to ¤2.46 billion following its acquisition of Absolut vodka.

Pernod Ricard shares closed up 0.1 percent on the Paris stock exchange Wednesday at ¤56 a share.

Copyright 2009 The AP.

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