Coca-Cola Enterprises today reported a fall in its first-quarter profits but claimed it was beginning to improve its performance from last year’s “unusual operating conditions”.

The European bottling giant reported a fall in net income of 44% to $61m.

First-quarter net sales were $1.9bn, down 1%, while volume declined 1.5%, still an improvement from the fourth quarter.

The company said volume sales in Great Britain were up 1%, compared to a 3% decline in continental Europe.

“Our results for the first quarter reflect improvement over the fourth quarter as we begin to move past some of the unusual operating conditions of 2012,” said John F Brock, chairman and chief executive officer.

“While sustained economic challenges persist, we believe our sales initiatives, the on-going benefits of our Business Transformation Program, and a more normal business environment will enable us to achieve our 2013 operating income growth objective.”

The company also revealed a right to acquire the German bottling business from Coca-Cola Co will expire on May 25. As a result, it said it expected to increase its cash returns to shareholders in 2013.

“We have worked with the Coca-Cola Company to evaluate a potential purchase of the German bottling operation and have mutually agreed not to move forward with a transaction at this time,” said Brock.

On Tuesday, CCE announced it was to let go of 288 jobs at its six sites in the UK.