Carlsberg hit by shrinking Western beer market

Related tags Beer market Carlsberg Eastern europe European union Europe

Falling beer markets across Western Europe have claimed Carlsberg
as their latest victim, handing the Danish brewer heavy losses in
its first quarter despite strong performances in Russia and Asia,
reports Chris Mercer.

The first three months of the year is traditionally a slow, even loss-making, period for Carlsberg, yet the Danish brewer said 2005's first quarter had left it DKK 319 million (€42.8 million) in the red compared to a loss of only DKK 74 million last year.

The firm blamed a large part of the loss on a five per cent volume decline across the Western European beer market during the first quarter.

It also said the cold winter coupled with extra costs relating to acquisitions and disposals had hit profits harder than usual.

Carlsberg actually increased its beer volumes by 21 per cent across this region thanks to its recent acquisition of German brewer Holsten. But, when this bonus is removed, the firm actually saw volumes slip by 3 per cent on last year.

There are signs that a sluggish Western European market is affecting other brewers too, indicating an industry-wide problem.

Scottish & Newcastle, who co-own Eastern European brewer Baltic Beverage Holdings (BBH) with Carlsberg, said recently that markets in France and Belgium were particularly weak, forcing a major restructuring of its business in the latter.

S&N said its Kronenbourg brand had also raised prices and begun concentrating on the premium market in France, to distinguish itself from the growing number of private label brands led by the emergence of discount supermarkets.

The brewer added that it was cautious about future progress in these markets due to "continuing low levels of consumer confidence"​. S&N has managed to hold its UK beer and cider volumes level since January, although total market volume dipped three or four per cent.

Despite the problems, Carlsberg's first quarter revenues were up across all its markets, including the troublesome Western Europe as well as Eastern Europe and Asia.

The saviour for both Carlsberg and S&N was their joint-venture firm BBH, which owns the leading Russian brewer, Baltika, and yesterday announced a 14 per cent sales rise to more than DKK one billion (€134 million).

BBH has increased its share of the strongly emerging Russian market by four per cent over the last year, now holding a 36 per cent stake, and claims to having increased sales around five times faster than the country's beer market growth.

Carlsberg also profited from recent acquisitions and marketing investment in China, which drove Asian sales up by around 30 per cent, albeit to a lesser DKK401 million.

Analysts have cited Russia and China as two of the most important emerging beer markets in the world, even predicting the two nations could make up half of the global beer market by 2010.

Of course, both countries are not without their risks. Beer consumption remains low compared to Western markets and their sheer vastness presents problems for firms looking to promote and distribute brands nationally.

Both countries' industries are also subject to greater government interference; China more so through large amounts of state ownership, yet Russia too with recent legislation against televised beer adverts and outdoor drinking.

Carlsberg said it still expected 2005 profits to meet its forecast, with net revenue predicted to rise around DKK2 billion to DKK38 billion (€5.1 billion).

Related topics Manufacturers Beer & cider Carlsberg

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