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Foreign sales dominate Budweiser market

Foreign sales dominate Budweiser market

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The King of Beers can finally call itself a citizen of the world.

For the first time, more than half of Budweiser volume — 51 percent — is now outside of the U.S. In 2009, only 28 percent of Bud sales were abroad.

The milestone was reached last year as Anheuser-Busch InBev continues its push to position Bud as a global brand.

Efforts to grow the flagship brand globally appear to be paying off, as Budweiser volume grew 6.4 percent in 2012, despite declining U.S. sales. Budweiser’s inroads internationally are up dramatically from recent years.

Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s bet on new premium beers for the U.S. market is paying off.

Last year, the Belgium-based brewer’s beer volume in the U.S. grew for the first time since 2008, driven by gains in market share of its Bud Light Platinum and Bud Light Lime Lime-A-Rita. Both brands were released in early 2012.

The A-B didn’t offer a figure for U.S. volume. However, for all of North America, which accounts for 31 percent of the brewer’s total volume, shipments totaled nearly 107 million barrels.

“Innovations played the major role in our success last year, accounting for approximately 7 percent of total (global) volumes, up from 6 percent in 2011, ” CEO Carlos Brito said in a conference call Wednesday.

Brito made the comments after the brewer released its fourth-quarter earnings results.

A-B InBev’s fourth-quarter profit fell 4.9 percent to $1.76 billion, primarily from changes in financing costs. Revenue increased 4 percent to $10.3 billion.

For the full year, the brewer’s net profit rose 24 percent to $7.24 billion, and revenue grew 1.8 percent to $39.8 billion.

The company expects U.S. volume in the first quarter to be negatively affected as consumers have less disposable income because of higher gas prices and the impact of payroll taxes, coupled with bad weather compared with a year ago.

However, A-B InBev has a strong pipeline of new products, Brito said. The brewer recently debuted Budweiser Black Crown, a higher-alcohol beer that’s targeted to young adults, in the U.S.

“The new brand is off to a good start, ” Brito said of Black Crown. Other new products rolling out in 2013 include Bud Light Lime Straw-ber-ita and Beck’s Sapphire.

Unlike other brewers, Anheuser-Busch can quickly push those brands onto retail shelves.

“Approximately 500 wholesalers distribute AB InBev’s beers in the U.S., and the vast majority of these wholesalers’ volumes come from the AB InBev’s portfolio, ” Morningstar analyst Thomas Mullarkey wrote in a recent analysts’ note. “This scale and distribution network enables the company to quickly and successfully roll out new products such as Bud Light Platinum coast to coast.”

A-B InBev’s efforts to buy the half of Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo, maker of Corona and other beers, remain stalled by a U.S. Department of Justice antitrust lawsuit filed in January. But earlier this month, a judge in the case granted a request to delay the antitrust case while the parties engage in negotiations for a settlement to move the $20.1 billion merger forward.

A-B InBev didn’t provide updates on the deal, and said in a statement that the acquisition “remains subject to the existing challenge by the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Lisa Brown is a business reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @LisaBrownSTL and the Business section @postdispatchbiz.

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