Mixed news for Heineken as like-for-like beer sales slide

HEINEKEN has booked a sharp rise in sales, thanks to last year's takeover of Scottish & Newcastle which made it the largest brewer in Britain.

Revenues, including acquisitions, grew by 24 per cent in the first quarter to 3.05 billion (2.69bn).

However, on a like-for-like basis, sales slipped 1 per cent, despite higher beer prices.

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Heineken, the world's third-largest brewer, also reported a bigger-than-expected drop in the volume of beer shipped in the first quarter – down 6.3 per cent – warning the impact and duration of the downturn remained unclear.

Western Europeans drank 9.8 per cent less of its brands such as Heineken, Foster's and Amstel, central and east European thirsts diminished 12 per cent and in the Americas by 16 per cent.

But volumes grew 16 per cent in Africa, including key market Nigeria, and by 3.4 per cent in the Asia-Pacific.

Chief financial officer Rene Hooft Graafland said: "Beer is relatively resilient but not immune in the current trading environment."

He noted the first quarter was a less important one for the company.

Just over half of Heineken's 2008 revenue came from western Europe, where brewers are fighting over a shrinking beer market.

Heineken's involvement in that market grew after it bought S&N with Carlsberg for 7.8bn, mainly gaining S&N's UK assets.