A consumer shift to lower priced beers damaged net sales at Efes Breweries International in the first nine months of 2009, but cost savings enabled the brewer to improve profits.

Net sales for the nine months to the end of September fell by 21% to US$672.4m, compared to $861m in the same period of last year, Netherland's-based Efes Breweries International (EBI) said yesterday (10 November).

A depreciating Russian ruble against the US$ and consumers trading down to lower priced beers in the economic downturn were the main reasons for the sales slide, said the group, which is controlled by Turkey-based Anadolu Efes.

Operating profits for the nine months rose to US$80.7m, from $52m in 2008. Net profits were $12m, against losses of $15.8m a year earlier.

"The economic crisis continues to affect all of our operating markets," said CEO and chairman Alejandro Jimenez.

"We are negatively affected by lower demand, however, we believe it has sharpened our competitive skills as we are more focused on cost reduction initiatives, cash flow management, capex rationalisation and efficiency."

Despite the sales fall, EBI said it increased market share in Russia, which accounts for more than three quarters of the group's annual volume sales.

Beer market share in the country rose to 9.5%, compared to 9% last year, after EBI reported volume sales down 4% on a market down in high single digits during the same period.

Group beer sales by volume for the nine months fell by 3.7% to 10.8m hectolitres.