By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest beer maker, forecast strong revenue and profit growth in 2019, with a focus on increasing beer sales rather than just prices, after higher than expected underlying earnings at the end of 2018.
The brewer of Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois, like its major rivals, is seeking to bring developed world consumers back to beer from wine and spirits through a wider range of premium lagers and entice emerging market drinkers with affordable beers.
The company gave no numerical target for earnings growth this year, but said revenue per hectolitre should increase by more than inflation due to consumers trading up to premium beers as well as price rises. Costs would grow at a slower pace.
AB InBev said it wanted top-line growth to be more balanced between revenue per hectolitre and volumes.
Rival Heineken, the world's second largest brewer, forecast earlier this month that its operating profit would increase by a mid single-digit percentage this year after beer sales growth in all regions in 2018.
AB InBev said that over the past year it had seen improved volumes, revenue and market share in Mexico, Colombia, China, western Europe and several African countries. It lost a 0.4 percentage point share of its largest market, the United States, but this was the slowest decline since 2012.
However, it said it was held back by lower than expected results in its second-largest market Brazil and in Argentina and South Africa. The decline of many emerging market currencies to the dollar and increased costs for aluminium and for U.S. freight also hit earnings.
Fourth-quarter core profit (EBITDA) rose by 10.0 percent to $6.17 billion, above the 7 percent like-for-like increase forecast in a company-compiled poll.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Mark Potter)