MillerCoors sees beer sales up despite downturn

Thousands of newly-labelled bottles of Coors Light beer head for packaging at the Coors brewery in Golden, Colorado October 16, 2007. . REUTERS/Rick Wilking

LONDON (Reuters) - MillerCoors, the second-largest brewer in the United States, sees beer sales growth slowing less rapidly in the downturn than wine and spirits and as the beermaker focuses on premium light and craft beers.

The brewer of Miller Lite and Coors Light expects the U.S. annual beer market growth to slow to 0.6 percent in 2009-2012 from 0.9 percent in 2004-2008, compared with a steeper fall in spirits growth to 1.1 percent from 2.7 percent.

MillerCoors President and Chief Commercial Officer Tom Long told a seminar in London on Tuesday the group’s premium light beers Miller Lite, Coors Light and Miller Genuine Draft 64 had grown market share by 1 percent point over the last nine months, and its Blue Moon beer was now the leading craft beer in the U.S. market.

In addition, the group’s two economy brands Miller High Life and Keystone Light were both gaining share as some consumers traded down to cheaper brands.

The grouping, which combines the U.S. operations of SABMiller Plc SAB.L and Molson Coors Brewing Co TAP.N with nearly 30 percent of U.S. beer sales, reiterated it expects to make $500 million of synergy savings by the third year of its joint operations.

Long added that any extra cost savings found above the $500 million level would be invested back into the business in terms of marketing support behind the brands.

The company, formed in July 2008, is 58 percent owned by SABMiller and the rest by Molson Coors, and competes in the United States with Budweiser and Bud Light brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev ABI.BR which accounts for nearly half U.S. beer sales.

Early in May, MillerCoors said first-quarter net sales rose 3.8 percent to give net profit for January-March of $68.5 million. It reported an accelerated timing of merger savings but stuck to the overall $500 million target.

Reporting by David Jones; Editing by David Holmes