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UPDATE 1-Remy Cointreau's Q1 sales beat forecasts as Chinese regain taste for cognac

cognac@

* Strong performance of cognac in China

* Q1 group sales of 240 mln euros (Adds details from slides)

PARIS, July 20 (Reuters) - French spirits group Remy Cointreau delivered stronger-than-expected first quarter sales as Chinese customers regained a taste for its premium cognac.

Solid double-digit sales growth in China largely outpaced a softer start in Remy's top U.S. market, which struggled with high year-ago comparables when cognac sales had been boosted by price increases, the group said on Thursday.

The maker of Remy Martin cognac and Cointreau liquor, which is accelerating a drive to sell higher-priced spirits to boost profit margins, kept its goal to grow current operating profit on a comparable basis in the current financial year.

Remy Cointreau has been focusing on selling spirits priced at $50 a bottle or more, as part of a strategy that has benefited from a rebound in Chinese demand.

Remy's strategy differs from that of rival Pernod Ricard , which has launched less expensive brands in China.

A fast-growing upper middle-class was driving demand in mainland China, while trends were also improving in Macao and Hong Kong, said Remy.

Travel retail sales in Asia also benefited from increased spending by Chinese travelers and favorable government measures to develop "domestic" duty free shops in China, it added.

Group sales reached 240.2 million euros ($277 million) in the three months to June 30, up 8 percent on a like-for-like basis. It also beat 0.9 percent growth in the fourth quarter, and was above analysts' forecasts for 4.7 percent growth.

Cognac sales, which contribute 65 percent to group revenue, jumped 18.7 percent in the first quarter, up from 6.2 percent growth in the fourth quarter and also above analysts' expectations of 11.7 percent growth.

The latest initiatives from Remy Martin cognac included a new expansion for the group in Africa and a new limited edition for its Louis XIII deluxe cognac, The Legacy, which is hand signed by four generations of Louis XIII cellar masters.

Remy Cointreau, Pernod and British rival Diageo have all faced pressure in the past on sales in China, following a crackdown on luxury gift-giving and personal spending by Chinese civil servants.

As a result, Remy shifted its focus to the United States, which is now its top market for cognac, but demand in China has been picking up again.

($1 = 0.8684 euros) (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)