* EPS $0.44 vs. $0.37 estimate
* Net sales up 15.1 percent
* Monster Energy drinks continues to gain market share
* Shares up 9 percent after market
(Adds conference call details, updates share movement)
May 7 (Reuters) - Hansen Natural Corp HANS.O, which sells the Monster Energy drink, posted first-quarter profit that came in ahead of market expectations as sales of its energy drinks continued to outperform in the category and gain market share.
Shares of the company rose 9 percent to $41.39 in trading after the bell. They closed at $38.06 Thursday on Nasdaq.
Hansen, which has doubled its share in the U.S. energy-drink market since its launch there in 2002, has a distribution agreement with Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) and its bottler under which the beverage giant released Monster in the six Western European countries and parts of the United States.
In a bid to further grow its global footprint, the company said it is had recently entered distribution agreements with Schweppes Australia Pty Ltd.
Gross sales to customers outside the United States rose to $35.3 million in the first quarter, compared with $20.1 million, last year.
On a conference call with analysts, the company said it expects to launch the "Hammer X-Presso Monster" in the United States during its ongoing second quarter.
This dairy-based espresso energy drink will compete directly with Starbucks' double-shot drink, a company executive said.
Hansen, which competes with Austria-based Red Bull in the energy drinks category, also said it plans to expand its Monster Energy line with other new products this year.
The company's net income rose 44.3 percent to $41.6 million, or 44 cents a share, from $28.8 million, or 29 cents a share, a year earlier.
Net sales rose 15.1 percent to $244.2 million.
Analysts were expecting earnings of 37 cents a share, before special items, on revenue of $230.1 million, according to Reuters Estimates.
Gross profit as a percentage of net sales rose to 53.3 percent compared with 49.4 percent in the year-ago period. (Reporting by Amitha Rajan and Mihir Dalal in Bangalore; Editing by Anil D'Silva, Jarshad Kakkrakandy)