Alcohol-free lager demand helps Heineken annual sales fizz

Heineken has seen soaring demand for non-alcoholic lager help it notch up its best sales performance in a decade as the group’s boss prepares to head for the exit.

The Dutch beer giant reported an 8.3% jump in sales for its flagship brand in 2019, with double-digit growth for its no alcohol portfolio as it rolled out its popular Heineken 0.0 tipple to 57 markets worldwide.

Its results come after family-controlled Heineken announced late on Tuesday that chairman and chief executive Jean-Francois van Boxmeer is to step down in the summer after nearly 15 years at the helm.

He will be succeeded by Dolf van den Brink, president of Heineken’s Asia-Pacific business, on June 1.

Heineken’s results showed that annual operating profits before one-offs rose 3.9% to 4.02 billion euros (£3.4 billion) last year, with group revenues 5.2% higher at 28.4 billion euros (£23.9 billion).

The group – which also makes Tiger, Sol and Strongbow cider – said it expects mid-single digit earnings growth in 2020, as consumers choose more expensive premium brands and thanks to easing input cost rises.

But the group added a note of caution to its expectations as the outbreak of coronavirus, now officially named Covid-19, continues to spread, with fears over a major hit to China and global economic growth.

It said: “It is at this stage not possible to assess the extent and duration of the impact of coronavirus on the economy and on our business.”

Outgoing boss Mr van Boxmeer said: “In 2019, we delivered another year of superior top-line growth, with continued strong performance in the second half.”

The UK was one of more than 40 markets that delivered double-digit sales growth for the group last year.

Heineken sales rose 14.9% across Europe, including the UK, with growth of 3.4% in the final three months.

It marks a robust final year for Mr van Boxmeer, who is credited with having more than doubled the size of the group during his tenure, expanding it globally and making a raft of acquisitions.