Soft drinks group Nichols Plc said it expected 2011 profit to be significantly ahead of the previous year and market expectations on strong demand from international consumers.

The company -- best known for its purple Vimto drink -- said it held on to its operating margins in the UK despite rise in raw material costs and the exceptionally high level of promotional activity.

Sales for the year to end-December 2011 rose 18 percent from 2010, it said.

Once again our brands have outperformed the soft drinks market in the UK and our strong and well-established international business continues to deliver significant year on year growth, Nichols said in a statement on Friday.

Analysts on average were expecting a full-year pretax profit of 16.8 million pounds, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

In November, Britain's second biggest soft drinks maker Britvic said it was confident about its prospects for 2012, stressing the resilience of soft drinks demand in tough economic conditions.

Nichols said it would launch a new range of low calorie soft drinks called 'Weight Watchers' in the UK and Ireland this month.

The company's shares, which have gained nearly 20 percent over the past year, closed at 537.5 pence on Thursday on the London Stock Exchange, valuing the business at about 200 million pounds.

(Reporting by Tresa Sherin Morera in Bangalore; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)