The bitter spring of Mahou beer | Economy



Possibly it was good for hop cultivation, but last spring, abundant in rain and with temperatures lower than usual, did not sit too well to the brewers. In fact, for Mahou San Miguel, the first Spanish brewer in billing, the quarter between March and June was "very, very bad", according to its general director, Alberto Rodríguez-Toquero. Thanks to this slump and a "not very good" first quarter and despite a positive summer, the group's sales in volume grew by only 2% at the end of the third quarter, below forecasts.

The company, which prefers not to give the turnover figures until the end of the year, does not detail the fall in the second quarter, but Rodríguez-Toquero, who received EL PAÍS at the company's headquarters in Madrid, abounds: "It will be remembered as a very bad quarter ", which has weighed to a certain extent the year, since 55% of sales come from the hotel chain. "We had better expectations, but we had to face a series of adverse factors, mainly climatological," he admits. Last year, the brewery, which in addition to the brands that name it has in its portfolio Alhambra and shares in the US Founders Y Avery Brewing and the Spanish Nómada and La Salve, as well as the Solán de Cabras water, billed 1,262.2 million euros, 3.4% more than in 2016 and its historic maximum.

However, the weather helped offset the spring sales downturn in Spain. The heat wave in Central Europe at the beginning of summer, which subtract cash to the Spanish tourism sector, boosted exports. "Many people stayed in their country of origin because it was good weather and that has ended in a very good result at the international level", summarizes Rodríguez-Toquero. In addition to exports, Mahou is present in Chile, in the US with the mentioned brands and in India. In total, the foreign sector accounts for 13% of the volume sold, 1.8 million hectoliters. "The international business grows steadily in double digits, our challenge is to be a more geographically diversified company," he says, in which 20% of the business comes from outside, without rigid deadlines.

"That does not mean that there are no opportunities for growth in Spain," says Rodríguez-Toquero, who does not rule out entering companies such as La Salve, a Bilbao-based brewer resuscitated in 2015 and of which they have 42.9% ownership. But it places the focus above all abroad, especially in the US. "We like it because it has been a pioneer market in resuscitating and making beer fashionable, although we look everywhere," explains the director, who also points to Europe as a field to "explore opportunities". And do not discard any format. "The strategic plan for 2020 contemplates a balanced growth between organic and inorganic (purchases)", focused on beer but without losing sight of the water (recently they have acquired a stake in Aguas del Valle de la Orotava, in Tenerife).

Premium beer

The organic leg of growth, he says, has to come largely from the new products, innovations and "premiumization"of the brands, like Mahou Barrica or Maestra, San Miguel Manila or Alhambra 1926. That, in addition, are more profitable. In 2017, these specialties accounted for 36.5% of volume growth and 60% of sales growth. That is, they are more profitable. If a liter of classic Mahou barely exceeds the euro per liter, the barrel goes to more than five and Casimiro Mahou to nine. "Another of our goals is to increase the premiumization and innovation in our product range, so that in 2020 it will be 10% of sales; now they represent 5%, the effort is very important ", says Rodríguez-Toquero.

"The consumer trend is going there, in the last five years, that segment of specialty beers has doubled, and we have gained a share, that is, we are growing above what the segment grows," says Rodríguez-Toquero . In response to that trend, in addition to the specialties, Mahou has invested in facilities. Within its factory in Alovera (Guadalajara), the second largest in Europe, they have opened a microbrewery where Mahou Barrica and Nómada are made and where new recipes are tested. And in 2019 they will open a brew hub in Córdoba, a small brewery where third-party beer will be made. "Those who do not have a scale or resources for their own installation may request that their recipe be prepared there," explains Rodríguez-Toquero.

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