Rising sales in Latin America and Eastern Europe have driven a robust performance at InBev, the world's largest brewer by volume, in 2006.

InBev, the brewer of brands including Brahma and Beck's, posted a 20% jump in operating profit when it announced its full-year results today (1 March). Operating profit reached EUR3.2bn (US$4.2bn) driven by a 7.9% rise in revenues to EUR13.3bn. Global beer volumes rose 5.5%.

InBev saw volumes in Latin America, where it is the continent's largest brewer, rise 6.7% as sales grew in its key markets in the region, including Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

In Central and Eastern Europe, volumes rose 12.3% to become InBev's second-largest region in terms of sales volumes. Volumes rose sharply in Russia - up almost 16% - and Ukraine, where sales rose 17.4%, InBev said.

Rising sales in China drove a 4.3% increase in beer volumes from InBev's operations in Asia-Pacific, while the growing popularity for its imported beers in the US drove a 2.3% increase in volumes in North America.

In Western Europe, however, InBev saw volumes dip 0.5% due to falling sales in the UK, where demand for Stella Artois fell. In Belgium, where InBev is market leader, volumes also slid, while in Germany, the brewer managed to eke out volume growth of 0.2%.

Nevertheless, InBev saw its profits in Western Europe jump over 13% thanks to a series of cost-cutting measures. In 2006, InBev decided to merge its finance, procurement and export functions in Europe at a cost of 360 jobs and announced plans to lay off some 50 workers in the UK.

InBev CEO Carlos Brito was upbeat about the company's performance last year. "In 2006 we made some good progress on our journey to become the best company in the beer industry," Brito said. "We delivered our 30% EBITDA margin target a year ahead of our guidance, even discounting positive foreign exchange effects."