SABMiller is unlikely to grow beer sales by volume in Europe this year, compared to previously predicted growth of up to 4%, the brewer's managing director for the region has said.

SABMiller's previous goal of between 2% and 4% annual growth in Europe looks "ambitious" given the current economic climate, SABMiller Europe head Alan Clark told an investor seminar in London yesterday (9 July).

"We are probably looking more at a flat performance this year," said Clark. "The first quarter has been very similar to our full-year last year. Trading is still very tough," he said.

But the brewer, which owns Peroni and Grolsch, expects "a sharp swing back to growth" once European national economies begin to recover, Clark said.

On sales revenue, Clark said that SABMiller would remain aloof to the world of discounting. "We are being very careful not to see revenue deterioration. We're going to continue to drive pricing, perhaps not as aggressively as in previous years, but still above CPI [consumer price index]," he said.

SABMiller reported flat like-for-like beer sales by volume for its full-year to the end of March, although net sales rose by 6%.

Several of Eastern Europe's largest beer markets have been hit hard by the global economic downturn.

In May, SABMiller announced it had agreed to take full control of its Polish subsidiary, Kompania Piwowarska, for US$1.1bn. The Polish group announced plans to cut more than 70 jobs in February, after a weakening national economy hit domestic beer demand.

In March, SABMiller-owned Czech brewer Plzenský Prazdroj announced plans to cut around 6% of its work force, following a review of the business.