Guinness maker Diageo says interim profits up 61% AFP 1/31/2013 10:50:31 AM Diageo, the world's biggest producer of alcoholic drinks, said on Thursday that net profits soared 61 percent in the first half of its financial year, boosted by strong sales in emerging markets and the United States.Earnings after taxation surged to Â£1.538 billion ($2.432 billion, 1.794 billion euros) in the six months to December 31, compared with Â£953 million in the same part of 2011, Diageo said in a results statement.The group, which makes of Guinness stout, added that total sales increased by five percent to Â£6.04 billion, helped by keen demand for premium spirits in North America during the crucial holiday season."These results reflect the global strength of our strategic brands, our leadership in the US spirits market and our increasing presence in the fastest growing markets of the world," said Diageo Chief Executive Paul S Walsh."Our expanding reach to emerging middle class consumers in faster growing markets was the key driver of our volume growth, while net sales growth was driven by our pricing strategy and premiumisation, especially in the US."This drove gross margin expansion, which together with our continued focus on operating efficiencies, delivered operating margin improvement."The British brewing giant, which produces Johnnie Walker whisky and Smirnoff vodka, has meanwhile boosted its presence in emerging markets with recent acquisitions in Brazil, China, India and Turkey.The group also enjoys keen demand for Scotch whisky products in Latin America and beer in Africa.Diageo employs 20,000 people in 80 countries around the world, of which 4,000 are in Scotland. The company also makes Baileys liqueur, Captain Morgan rum and Tanqueray gin. Almost 40 percent of its business is in emerging markets.