Raising beer prices helped MillerCoors, the US joint venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors, to a 3% revenue rise in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Net revenue for the three months to the end of December rose to US$2.04bn, MillerCoors said today (10 February). The brewer's two partners, which received regulatory clearance for the venture last June, had combined sales of $1.99bn in the US in the fourth quarter of 2007.

An 8% rise in revenue per barrel, reflecting price increases, helped MillerCoors to offset a 2.3% drop in volume sales to retailers and a 4.3% fall in sales to wholesalers for the quarter.

Reported net income fell to $54m, compared to an equivalent $91m in the fourth quarter of 2007.

MillerCoors blamed the slip on impairment charges related to its Sparks brand, which the group has agreed to reformulate following pressure from health groups and attorneys general over its combination of caffeine and alcohol. Other charges related to the integration of the SABMiller and Molson Coors US businesses.

Underlying net income, excluding these costs, rose by 16.5% to $135m for the three months, the brewer said.

"While the US beer category softened in the fourth quarter, we increased pricing and net revenue to deliver strong profit growth," said MillerCoors CEO Leo Kiely.

The group re-iterated its focus on cost savings going forward. It aims to achieve $500m of annual cost synergies by the third year of combined operations.

The brewer said: "By the end of calendar year 2009, the company expects to achieve a total of $238m in synergies, surpassing its original forecast of $225m. While the timing of synergy delivery has accelerated, MillerCoors goal to achieve its $500m annual synergy plan remains the same."

In 2009, MillerCoors said it would focus on premium light brands, particularly in returning Miller Lite to volume growth, and also imported beers, such as Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Blue Moon and Grolsch.