Royal Unibrew, the Danish brewer, has reported a 8% drop in net sales for the first quarter due to heavy declines in Eastern Europe.

Net sales of beer, malt and soft drinks fell by 8.4% to DKK768m (US$137m) for the first three months of 2009, Unibrew said yesterday (29 April). Price increases helped to prevent a steeper revenue decline, said the brewer, which reported volume sales down by 15% to 1.3m hectolitres.

Unibrew said that it reduced net losses to DKK35m, down by DKK23m on the first quarter of 2008.

The brewer said that its first quarter figures "do not reflect a proportionate share of the full-year results" for 2009.

"A loss is usual for brewery businesses in the winter season, which is used to carry out major maintenance work on production facilities while demand for beer and soft drinks, and thus sales and production volumes, is limited," said the group.

The firm said in its outlook, meanwhile, that it expects net sales to fall in 2009, although it anticipates it will either maintain or grow market share in all markets.

Operating profits, excluding exceptional items, is expected to rise, the brewer said, without putting figures on its predictions.

Unibrew was hit particularly hard in Eastern Europe in the first quarter of 2009, with sales dropping 21% to DKK181m. Sales in Western Europe fell by 3.4% to DKK491m.

Last month, Unibrew president and CEO Henrik Brandt told just-drinks that the firm has sold its Koszalin brewery in Poland to Polish brewer Van Pur.

The sales forms part of a restructuring plan, announced by Unibrew in its full-year results statement for 2008.

Poland's beer market shrank by between 5% and 10% in the first quarter of 2009, said Unibrew, which saw sales revenue in Poland fall by 26% for the period. Excluding currency impact, the group's sales fell by 7%.