• Results reflect "vitality" of brands, Bel said
  • Double-digit sales in Near and Middle East 
Bel enjoyed higher Q1 sales, although hinted economic and political factors weighing on profits

Bel enjoyed higher Q1 sales, although hinted economic and political factors weighing on profits

Groupe Bel, the French cheese maker behind The Laughing Cow and Babybel, has reported a 3.5% rise in first-quarter sales, helped by growth in western Europe and the Middle East.

The company posted sales of EUR664m (US$907.8m) for the three months to the end of March, up from EUR642m in the first quarter of 2013.

Sales in western Europe, Bel's largest region, increased 4.9% to EUR261m. The company's Near and Middle East division saw sales jump 16.6% to EUR102m.

Bel's performance in that region made the division its third-largest by sales, overtaking the combined Americas/Asia Pacific unit, which saw sales fall 4.4% due to foreign exchange.

Bel did not provide figures on first-quarter earnings. However, it admitted: "With these economic and political factors weighing on its short-term profitability, the group is pursuing its efforts to strengthen its operating excellence."

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13/05/2014 FIRST QUARTER 2014 SALES REPORT

Sales continue to grow, advancing 3.5 % in Q1

In Q1 2014, the Group's consolidated sales totaled €664 million, up 3.5% on a published basis versus the year ago period.

Excluding a negative 1.8% impact from foreign exchange fluctuations, sales increased 5.3% organically in Q1 2014. There was no impact from changes in the scope of consolidation during the period.

The performance reflects the vitality of the Group's core brands and the talent of its teams for developing the brands, despite the current economic and geopolitical environment.

The sales performance is presented by geographical region in the following table:

In the Western Europe region, sales were driven by the robust volume momentum of Bel's core brands. This very satisfactory performance resulted from efforts by the sales and marketing teams to provide consumers with wholesome, practical and appealing products.

The sales decline in North and East Europe stemmed solely from the negative impact of foreign exchange fluctuations. On a comparable basis, the region's Q1 2014 sales were flat versus the prior-year period, underscoring the Group's strong resilience in those markets, despite difficulties arising from the tense situation in Ukraine.

Sales in the Americas, Asia-Pacific region were negatively affected by foreign exchange variations. Adjusted for that impact, the region's sales continued to grow, albeit at a moderate pace.

In the Near and Middle East region, the year got off to a remarkably strong start, with continued double-digit sales growth after adjusting for the foreign exchange impact. This performance was achieved despite persistent distribution difficulties in some of the region's markets.

The Greater Africa region also continued to grow during the quarter, reporting robust sales growth at constant exchange rates.

Outlook for 2014
At the beginning of the year, market conditions remained challenging, with raw material prices at historical highs, significant foreign exchange volatility and continued political instability in some world regions.

With these economic and political factors weighing on its short-term profitability, the Group is pursuing its efforts to strengthen its operating excellence.

Bel remains confident about its growth prospects, thanks to the broad geographical spread of its activities and the strength of brands and products in tune with the Group's various markets.

Original source: Groupe Bel