Drinks maker Nichols has reported a 15 per cent rise in pretax profits following a strong performance from Vimto and the relaunch of its sugar-free Panda range.

The Merseyside company, which makes Sunkist, saw first half pretax profits before exceptionals rise to £2.3 million from £2 million.

It said international Vimto sales were ahead, while Panda was relaunched in April as a natural flavoured childrens' soft drink. The company said Panda would be backed by the brand's first ever TV and cinema advertising campaign, in the school holidays.

Nichols said turnover was up 6.7 per cent to £26.2 million with the core Vimto brand growing its share in a highly competitive marketplace.

Vimto, developed as a health tonic in Manchester in 1908, became popular during the temperance movement and is sold in 65 countries.

First half sales were up in Africa and the Middle East where, helped by Ramadan, more than 80 per cent of cordial sales are generated.

Nichols, which is now focusing on soft drinks, closed up 3p at 232p.