SABMiller, the world's second largest brewer, said today that its organic lager volumes grew by just over 3% for the 11 months to February 2004. The company said that its operating performance remains strong, although its US business Miller saw sales to retailers (STRs) for the 11 months down by 2.7% on a pro forma basis.

That said, this figure contrasts with the nine-month decline to December 2003, when STRs were down 3.4%. The brewer said the slowing of the volume decline trend can be attributed to continued growth in Miller Lite brand sales offset by some weaker performances elsewhere in the brand portfolio.

"Miller financial performance is ahead of our expectations reflecting better Miller Lite volumes, efficiencies and improved effectiveness in marketing spend, and benefits from restructuring. Overall, the execution of the Miller turnaround strategy remains on schedule," SABMiller said.

In Central America, beer volumes grew 4%, whilst sales of carbonated soft drinks were down 4.5% in the period, reflecting a slowing of the negative trend.

"Our initiatives in improving the brand portfolios and stimulating growth in beer consumption, together with benefits from lower costs following a wide-ranging restructuring programme, have enhanced financial performance," SABMiller said.

Volumes in the Europe business were up 8% above the prior year, leading to financial performance being in line with expectations.

SABMiller said the integration projects within Peroni remain on plan although its profitability for the period is impacted by integration costs and significant investment behind its brands, particularly in support of the launch of Miller Genuine Draft.

The Africa and Asia business delivered an increase of some 3% in organic lager volume over the prior year. "The division is producing a strong operating performance from its portfolio of businesses, and this has been enhanced by favourable currency movements," the company said.

Beer South Africa has grown volumes by nearly 3% on a comparable basis, and ABI, the company's South African soft drink unit, achieved carbonated soft drink volume growth of over 7%. Earnings in both units reflect good underlying operating performances, the company said.

"Our business has continued the momentum of organic growth achieved in the first half of our financial year, with Miller and Central America delivering financial performance above our expectations in the second half of the financial year to date," a statement said.