Soft drink maker Cott Corp. is sticking to what its chief executive says has worked best over the past year: Nurturing relationships with the retailers who stock its store-branded drinks on their shelves.

CEO Jerry Fowden told investors at the company’s annual meeting yesterday in Toronto that Cott spent much of last year reining in expenses, and ensuring the supermarkets, convenience stores and news stands that carry its product were happy.

The plan worked and so Cott, the world’s third-largest soft drink provider, plans to keep pushing it forward, he said.

“We will remain focused on further strengthening our customer relationships (and) on additional operating cost reductions,” he told investors ahead of the company’s first-quarter earnings results, which are expected before the markets open today.

He continued, Cott will also be maintaining its “diligence on capital expenditure and continuing to manage cash conservatively.”

Cott supplies numerous retail giants including Loblaw, Costco, Metro Inc. and convenience chain 7-Eleven Inc.

Fowden said that shoppers have taken a stronger liking to its private-label products as they hunted down lower priced beverages as the economy faltered.

In February, Cott reported a full-year profit of $81.5 million, more than recovering from a $122.8-million loss in 2008. Revenue dropped to $1.6 billion compared to $1.65 billion in the previous year.

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