ZURICH Swiss luxury chocolate maker Lindt & Spruengli (LISP.S) reported a pick up in sales growth on Tuesday, as cash-strapped Europeans cheered themselves up with treats like Lindor pralines and edible Christmas tree decorations.
Shares in the group, which traces its origins to a Zurich confectionery shop in the 1840s, climbed to a 4-1/2 year high after it said sales rose 7.3 percent last year to 2.67 billion Swiss francs.
That included organic growth, which excludes acquisitions, or 6.8 percent in local currencies, in line with its medium-term target of 6-8 percent and marking an acceleration from the first half of the year, when organic growth was 5.3 percent.
"Lindt has proven that good growth is possible even in a difficult environment thanks to innovation and marketing efforts," said ZKB analyst Patrick Schwendiman, adding second-half organic growth of 7.8 percent represented the strongest performance since the first half of 2010.
At 1010 GMT, Lindt shares were up 2.3 percent at 3,231 francs after trading as high as 3,244 francs earlier in the session. The European Food and Beverage index .SX3P was 0.4 percent higher.
Retailers across Europe are mostly struggling as shoppers' disposable incomes are squeezed by rising prices, subdued wages growth and austerity measures.
Lindt, which employs tennis star Roger Federer as a brand ambassador, had said in August it expected consumers to forsake gourmet chocolate as the European economy faltered.
However, the group said on Tuesday innovative products, like Lindt hot chocolate spoons that melt into your coffee, helped it to win market share in almost every country it operates.
It reported strong sales in Germany, France and Britain in its main European market, with only Italy lagging, while organic growth reached a double-digit percentage in North America.
The group, which has recently entered the Chinese market, said it expected operating profit to advance even more strongly than sales growth, with margins rising at the upper end of the 20 to 40 basis point range announced previously.
Peer Barry Callebaut, which will publish three-month sales figures for the year 2012/2013 on Wednesday, is banking on fast-growing Asia. Last month it bought the cocoa business of Singaporean group Petra Foods PEFO.SI. <ID:L5E8NC2T2>
($1 = 0.9172 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by David Cowell and Mark Potter)