ANHEUSER-BUSCH INBEV

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Anheuser Busch InBev : Online Beer Sales Soar at Brewers of Budweiser, Miller Lite -- Update

10/29/2020 | 08:35am

By Saabira Chaudhuri

Homebound drinkers bought more beer online and at supermarkets, cushioning two of the world's biggest brewers amid Covid-19 restrictions that have cut into sales at bars and restaurants.

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, the world's biggest brewer, said online sales are still a small slice of its revenue but are growing fast amid the pandemic. The company is expanding platforms to sell online in several markets, including in Brazil and Europe. That helped it boost adjusted sales, beating analysts' expectations.

Miller Lite-owner Molson Coors Beverage Co., meanwhile, said its online beer sales have grown roughly 200% in the U.S. over the course of the pandemic, and it is accelerating e-commerce options for consumers in Canada. Those gains, too, came from a very small base, and weren't enough to make up for sharply falling sales in Europe and reduced revenue from sales in restaurants and bars there and elsewhere.

AB InBev said consumers had "quickly adjusted to the new reality" of the pandemic era. Amid those shifts, AB InBev said it boosted market share in most regions.

Investors sent AB InBev shares up more than 2% in early European trading. Still, higher costs weighed on profits, and the company said as a defensive move, it wouldn't pay an interim dividend.

Amid lockdowns and social distancing, rules limiting online alcohol sales have eased in many places. New York in March began temporarily allowing restaurants and bars that serve food to offer delivery or takeout of alcohol, too. Iowa and Ohio recently made their temporary alcohol-to-go measures permanent.

Online U.S. booze retailer Drizly in August said its sales had grown over 350% from a year earlier. It estimates just 2% of U.S. alcohol purchases from supermarkets and liquor stores are currently made online, but expects that to rise to 20% in five years.

AB InBev, which brews one of every four beers sold, including the Budweiser and Bud Light brands, didn't detail U.S. online sales, but said North American revenue overall grew 4.7% in the quarter on an organic basis -- which strips out currency moves and acquisition impacts -- compared with a year earlier.

In other parts of the world, the company said it bolstered its online sales. Its online app in Brazil -- the company's second biggest market behind the U.S. -- Zé Delivery, is now available in all of the country's 27 states. AB InBev said it had seen a significant acceleration in the number of orders in the quarter. In Belgium, it is piloting a webshop to sell beer directly to consumers. In the U.K., it ships beer to people's homes through a subscription service called BeerBods.

In an interview, AB InBev Chief Executive Carlos Brito said the company's online beer sales were small -- well under 5% -- but had grown "exponentially" with adoption "broad based."

Pandemic-inspired changes in consumer habits hurt results, too. AB InBev's input costs jumped 9.6%. It blamed supply-chain adjustments, including a lower volume of returnable glass and kegs during the pandemic. A spike in demand for beer in cans increased currency and aluminum expenses.

Molson Coors cited a continued shortage of aluminum cans, as consumers shift their purchase to supermarkets and online.

AB InBev's net profit for the three months to Sept. 30 fell to $1.04 billion from $3 billion a year earlier, when results were boosted by a hedging-related gain. Underlying profit, which strips out gains tied to hedging and the impact of inflation, dropped to $1.6 billion from $1.87 billion.

Revenue fell to $12.82 billion from $13.17 billion for the same period a year ago. But, on an organic basis, revenue rose 4%, beating analysts' forecasts for a 4.2% decline.

Overall beer volumes grew 2.6%, driven largely by South America. AB InBev reported a 20% jump in beer volumes in the region for the quarter. The company performed especially well in Brazil. A new malt beer -- Brahma Duplo Malt -- and government subsidies propped up spending there.

In North America, volumes rose 1.5%. AB InBev said Michelob Ultra and Bud Light Seltzer both did well, while Budweiser and Bud Light continued their now long-running trend of market-share decline.

In Europe, the company said volume grew by low single digits. Volume grew 3.1% in China where most bars and restaurants are open, but increased just 0.5% for the Asia Pacific region as a whole, weighed down by other countries grappling with the virus.

Thursday's results mark a sharp improvement from the second quarter, when many countries instituted sharp lockdowns that propelled consumers to stay home.

Rivals Heineken NV and Carlsberg A/S this week also reported a stronger performance than in the prior quarter. But while Carlsberg raised its estimates for the full year, citing strong volumes in Russia and China, Heineken offered a more cautious view saying it expects the final quarter to be choppy as the pandemic spikes and bars close across a raft of countries.

AB InBev said it expects the second half of the year to deliver better results than the first but continues "to face uncertainty and volatility" due to the pandemic.

AB InBev's debt has ballooned, following its 2016, $100-billion-plus deal to buy SABMiller, the world's second-largest brewer at the time. On Thursday, the company said its debt reduction plans have been affected by Covid-19. It blamed the uncertainty wrought by the pandemic for its decision to not pay an interim dividend and said it would announce in February whether it will pay a final dividend.

Write to Saabira Chaudhuri at saabira.chaudhuri@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

10-29-20 0934ET

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