The brewing group, SABMiller, has said that the SARS outbreak has hit growth in the Chinese beer market and could even wipe out the forecast rise in beer consumption in the country for this year.

However, SABMiller's managing director for Africa and Asia, Andre Parker, was upbeat about his own company's Chinese operations which he said would benefit from the purchase of a stake in Harbin Brewery which it announced earlier this week. The Harbin deal would add "significant" synergies in the northeast of the country, Parker said.

Parker said the impact of SARS had varied from region to region but may have reduced beer sales in Beijing and other cities by as much as 20%.

"The SARS impact could bring growth down to zero (for the year) - but that is real thumb-suck territory," Parker said, adding that sales had been hit as consumers who normally ate out at restaurants chose to stay at home.