* Q3 organic growth 0.5 pct
* Keeps target for full-year earnings increase (Adds detail, background)
PARIS Jan 17 French drinks group Remy Cointreau's sales growth almost came to a halt in the third quarter due to a later date in February this year for the Chinese New Year.
"As previously indicated, weaker growth was reported for the third quarter due to the later date of the Chinese New Year, resulting in a technical decrease in shipments," Remy said in a statement on Thursday.
Celebrations for the Chinese New Year, on Feb. 10 this year, are a big driver of sales of Remy's drinks, which include Remy Martin cognac.
Remy, which has a market capitalisation of 4.5 billion euros, competes with spirit makers Pernod Ricard and Diageo. China has become a key growth market for the group, with demand for its premium cognac on the rise.
Sales rose 0.5 percent like-for-like to 368.6 million euros ($490 million) in the period through December, slowing from 5.3 percent growth in the second quarter and 24.4 percent in the first, Remy said.
But the company also said its own brands grew during the quarter.
The maker of Remy Martin, Cointreau liqueur and Mount Gay Rum confirmed its target for a significant increase in full-year earnings after it reported nine-month sales rose 17.5 percent to 964.4 million euros.
The group's Remy Martin cognac achieved 12.4 percent organic growth in the nine months through December, as delays in orders ahead of the Chinese New Year were offset elsewhere, Remy said.
"The U.S. continued to deliver very strong results, as did Asia, which continues to grow, primarily in premium cognac," Remy said. "Sales in Europe remained buoyed by Russia and increased, together with some Western European countries." ($1 = 0.7521 euros) (Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Dominique Vidalon and Jane Merriman)