US beer shipments down big in ‘09
Total U.S. beer sales volumes fell 2.2% last year, the highest rate since the 1950s, with demand worsening late in the year in a sign of the pressures on big brewers to make their mergers pay off.
Craft brands on the other hand were of course the one bright spot, posting a probable increase in the low single digits although specific figures for craft are not yet available.
The two major brewers increased prices by about 5% last year, fresh off InBev NV’s acquisition of Anheuser-Busch Cos. and the move by SABMiller PLC and Molson Coors Brewing Co. to combine U.S. operations. Those increases, along with a weak job market and lackluster advertising, contributed to the sales drop, industry analysts said.
Anheuser is trying to pare debt incurred from InBev NV’s $52 billion buy of Anheuser-Busch in 2008. Spokesmen for Anheuser and MillerCoors declined to comment.
Anheuser and MillerCoors, which control nearly 80% of U.S. beer sales, posted strong profit gains in the first nine months of 2009, buoyed by higher prices and cost cuts that followed the 2008 mergers.
But longer-term, they’ll need to restore sales-volume growth because cost cuts and price hikes will be harder to come by, analysts warned.