By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Heineken, the world's second-largest brewer, reported a 14% slide in beer sales in March, with sharp declines in all regions as the COVID-19 pandemic closed pubs and restaurants across the globe.
In some countries, such as South Africa, the Dutch brewer was forced to shut down production. In France, Italy and Spain, increased beer sales in stores failed to compensate for the collapse of bar trade.
The maker of Heineken, Tiger and Sol beers, and Strongbow cider, said first-quarter net profit fell by 68% to 94 million euros ($102.1 million), the company said on Wednesday.
Beer volumes fell 2.1% in the quarter while overall volumes, including cider and soft drinks, fell 3.9%, confirming guidance given two weeks ago.
The second quarter would be worse, Heineken said, with an impact also in the second half of the year as lockdowns may be lifted but the impact on the economy endured.
The company said the lack of clarity on the impact of COVID-19 meant the company has withdrawn all guidance for 2020.
BOSSES' BONUSES CANNED
Bonuses in 2020 for senior managers would be cancelled, it said.
Heineken added it would pay its planned final dividend for 2019, but would not provide an interim dividend after its half-year results in August. Last year, it gave an interim payment of 0.64 euros per share.
Its annual results would be hit by lower volumes and other effects, including increased credit losses from customers, issues of small suppliers and impairments and the devaluation of emerging market currencies versus the dollar and euro.
Heineken's major markets are Brazil, Mexico and Vietnam and is also the largest brewer in Europe.
Heineken said it had reduced discretionary spending by suspending corporate events and hiring and pausing or scaling down projects and technology upgrades.
With bars closed, Heineken said its business focus was on replenishing store shelves and aiding store deliveries. It was also pushing e-commerce beer sales.
Danish rival Carlsberg said earlier this month it was expanding cost-cutting as consumers in Europe opted more for less pricy multi-packs of mainstream lagers than craft or speciality beers.
($1 = 0.9206 euros)
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Keith Weir and Pravin Char)