PERNOD Ricard has beat forecasts in its first quarter as underlying sales climbed 5.7 per cent, helped by a strong performance for its Chivas brand in China.

The French spirits giant, which owns a wide portfolio of Scotch whisky brands through its Chivas business, said sales for the first quarter reached €2.3 billion.

Chivas Brothers executive chairman, Laurent Lacassagne, said: “The Scotch category is in a strong position and we have confidence in the future for our brands. Chivas Regal’s performance continues to recover while Ballantine’s has maintained its momentum."

Fifteen per cent growth in China drove a “significant acceleration” in the Asian market. After returning to full-year growth in the country for the first time in four years, Pernod Ricard said it would invest in driving sales of its leading Scotch brand through a basketball tie-in.

This, along with robust growth in the Americas, led the group to confirm full-year profit guidance of between three and five per cent in spite of an environment which “remains uncertain”.

This would indicate full year underlying operating profit will come in around €2.5bn.

Having seen sales decline in the Chinese market in recent years after a government anti-extravagance crack down, growth has returned as the growing middle classes in the country seek out international whiskies.

China returned to moderate growth in the year to April, as sales in Asia and the rest of the world (RoW), inched forward by one per cent.

This accelerated in the first quarter as Asia and RoW sales grew two per cent to €940m. The surge in China was driven by launch of Chivas 12 Extra and a “very good” performance by premium brands.

Pernod Ricard noted that the later timing of the Chinese New Year would impact second quarter performance.

“Market conditions in China are still challenging, however we have seen success and look to the future with confidence and optimism," added Mr Lacassagne.

In India, where a ban on selling alcohol in shops or bars near freeways has impacted the entire spirits industry, sales climbed two per cent. Pernod said the highway ban led to “continued to easing disruption” and proclaimed that gradual improvements would begin in the second quarter.

Pernod Ricard, the world’s second largest spirits company, saw “continued dynamism” in the Americas, where sales climbed six per cent to €642m, though this was slower than the eight per cent recorded last year.

European sales also grew at a slower rate than in the first quarter of last year, but on par with the full year. They climbed three per cent to €701m led by strong sales in Eastern Europe. Pernod noted strong dynamism in the UK and Germany, but a decline in France and slow start in Spain.

Overall growth in established markets was up three per cent, while in emerging markets, this accelerated to ten per cent.

Many of the company’s Scotch brands are included in its flagship strategic international brands portfolio, which grew eight per cent.