Beer sales in Asia and Africa help Heineken to see out European lockdowns

Heineken performed better than expected in the first quarter, with beer volumes flat as resurgent drinking in Asia and Africa helped to compensate for the impact of tough European lockdowns. The brewer of Tiger, Amstel and Moretti sold 5.4 per cent more beer in Asia during the quarter than in the same period last year and 9.9 per cent more in Africa, the Middle East and eastern Europe, helping to make up for a 9.7 per cent decline in European sales. Overall beer volumes were flat, far better than the 5.1 per cent decline that analysts had expected, the brewer said in a statement on Wednesday. The flagship Heineken brand grew 12.1 per cent in the quarter, providing a boost to the Dutch group, which in February announced 8,000 job cuts.

“We had a solid start to the year, despite facing severe restrictions across many markets and the closure of the on-trade in Europe due to the pandemic.” said Dolf van den Brink, who become chief executive in June. Heineken’s shares rose nearly 4 per cent in early Amsterdam trading. The Dutch brewer’s stock has gained more than 23 per cent over the past 12 months, with April showing a 9 per cent advance. The world’s second-largest brewer has suffered over the past year as Covid-19 restrictions hampered socialising globally, but it reported net profit of €168m for the first quarter — up from €94m a year earlier, though down from €299m in 2019 — thanks in part to cost-cutting measures.  The latest numbers provide a comparison with the first quarter of 2020, when the pandemic began to take hold, though severe lockdowns were only imposed in most of the world in March.

“In the circumstances this was a good quarter for Heineken,” said James Edwardes-Jones, analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “Every region beat expectations in terms of organic beer volume growth.” Heineken has struggled to absorb the impact of the pandemic, while Van den Brink has made changes including slimming down the company’s head office. The measures aim to restore margins to pre-pandemic levels and eventually to exceed these. The company has previously said it expected sales to improve in the second half of 2021, depending on successful vaccination programmes.

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