Profits still sluggish but volume sales up nearly 11%

Anheuser-Busch said yesterday its first-quarter profit fell slightly even as sales improved. The increase in sales was a huge turn around for A-B, which has been struggling recently along with other major brand brewers.

A-B earned $499 million for the period ending March 31, compared with $500 million during the same quarter the previous year.

Gross revenue rose to $4.3 billion from $4.1 billion a year ago. After excise taxes are deducted, net revenue was $3.8 billion versus $3.6 billion a year ago.

Total beer volume was up 10.9 percent compared with a 2.7 percent decline in the 2005 quarter. Sales-to-retailers rose 3.3 percent compared with a 1 percent decline last year, led by the Bud Light brand.

Last October the company said it planned to reverse its price cuts in a bid to generate stronger revenue growth.

"Through a number of sales initiatives we have restored our domestic beer volume growth momentum and we successfully implemented a moderate price increase early this year," said Chief Executive Patrick Stokes in a statement.

Anheuser-Busch introduced several new products and has accelerated efforts to broaden its portfolio of imported beers.

"Coming off a difficult year in 2005, Anheuser-Busch achieved encouraging first quarter 2006 results," Stokes said. "The cost pressures we experienced last year continue, but at a lesser rate, and we have implemented a number of initiatives to reduce costs and enhance productivity."

Signs improved a bit overall for the major brewers as domestic beer shipments to wholesalers increased 4.6 percent for the first quarter. Actual wholesaler sales to retailers were up 3.3 percent.