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Heineken sees UK sales tumble during lockdown

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Beer giant Heineken has said UK sales by volume plunged by around 30% in the first three months of 2021 as pubs remained shut during the lockdown.

The Dutch brewer said UK on-trade sales were close to zero in the three months to the end of March, which even surging off-trade sales – up by a “low-30s” percentage – could not offset.

This contributed to an overall 9.7% fall in beer sales by volume across Europe in the quarter.

But Heineken – which also brews brands including Birra Moretti, Sol and Amstel – said that, across the wider group, beer volumes were in line with a year earlier when the pandemic first struck, thanks to strong growth in Africa and Asia.

The result was 2.1% below the first quarter of 2019.

Net profits soared 79% to 168 million euros (£144.9 million) year on year in the first quarter, but were 44% lower than the same period in 2019.

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Chairman and chief executive Dolf van den Brink said: “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.”

The group is axing 8,000 jobs globally – almost 10% of its 85,000 staff – as part of efforts to save cash in the face of the pandemic.

The swingeing cuts were announced in February as the group revealed it swung to a net loss of 204 million euros (£176 million) in 2020, compared with a 2.2 billion euro (£1.9 billion) profit the previous year.

In its latest update, Heineken said less than 30% of the European on-trade market was operating at the start of April.

But, with English pubs reopening their beer gardens on April 12 and other countries beginning to follow suit, it said trade should begin to bounce back.

The group said: “Our business continues to be significantly impacted by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We expect market conditions to gradually improve into the second part of the year, depending on the rollout of vaccines.”

The group said its flagship Heineken brand had a better first quarter, with sales up 12.1% and double-digit growth seen in 40 countries.

It added that it has continued to support pubs affected by restrictions, waiving 19 million euros (£16.4 million) of rental payments for UK customers.

William Ryder, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Heineken’s first quarter paints a mixed picture, which is to be expected as Covid-19 is still having a varied impact around the world.

“Tough restrictions and successful vaccination programmes now may unleash stronger trading down the line.

“Meanwhile, another wave of infections may mean regions that are performing well at the moment could be forced to impose more restrictions in the future.”

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