Magners producer C&C Group has reported flat volumes in the UK for the six months to 31 August.

The group said that good weather at the start of the summer had helped the cider category grow 1% in the UK, while total beer volumes fell 2%.

Within this, premium and speciality categories outperformed standard. Off-trade volumes were broadly flat, but on-trade was negative as the growth seen in previous periods, particularly in city centre and food-led pubs, was not repeated.

Our GB cider partnership with AB InBev saw volume declines of -5% (Magners -6%) in its first six months, with net revenues further impacted by the distribution margin under the new agreement.

The update made reference to the group’s £37m investment in Admiral Taverns in September, only to reiterate that “the investment further strengthens our route-to-market in the UK, by providing direct access and participation for our brands in the more lucrative on-trade channel”.

Chief executive Stephen Glancey said: “During the first six months, we have continued to drive performance in Scotland, invest behind the strength of our core brands in Ireland and evolve our model in GB through our agreement with AB InBev and our planned investment in Admiral Taverns. Our continuous focus on cost, efficiency initiatives and effective working capital management have also delivered an improved operating margin and strong cash generation.

“Trading patterns over the first half have been rather less predictable than we would normally anticipate. Currency and the revised commercial terms of our AB InBev arrangements have negatively impacted reported revenues and profits in the short-term. However, much of our underlying performance has been resilient.

“In the UK Tennent’s is one of the few standard lagers in growth outperforming in the critical independent free trade and also the grocery channel. This is supported by a new multi media campaign “Here to Serve” which has won industry recognition for the excellence of its social media performance. The Tennent’s business has momentum in customer recruitment and the multi beverage wholesale and internet platform are both proving to be highly attractive to customers.

“Our super premium portfolio is gaining real traction, with the Italian beer Menabrea growing at 62% and Heverlee, our Belgian beer, at 32%. Total revenue in this area, including our recently acquired craft cider brand Orchard Pig, is €7.8 million and growing organically at 27% annually.

“In Ireland we have up-weighted investment in the Bulmers brand as “100% Irish” and rebranded our packaging. The campaign, together with our new product Outcider, has resonated with the targeted millennial consumer. We are growing volume and share in the grocery channel, offset by further reductions in draught distribution under competitive pressure. Rate of sale and pricing on the Bulmers brand both remain resilient.

“The first six months of our new distribution arrangement in the UK with AB InBev have gone smoothly with minimal customer disruption. We are gaining new distribution for Magners and brands like K Cider particularly in the convenience channel. Indeed, with the reformulation of K Cider we have seen MAT growth of +23% in the first half. In the longer term, we believe that the route to market capability of AB InBev will provide a strong platform for growth.

“Despite enhanced brand activity, operating margins improved by 40bps(i) reflecting strong cost control and improved business mix. We are investing in a new IT system for Ireland with a planned go live in Q1 2018. This will further enhance our operational efficiencies.

“We are adopting a supportive approach to planned legislative changes in Ireland and Scotland on minimum pricing and the tightening of advertising restrictions. Particularly on the latter, however, it is important that any intervention is both proportionate and maintains a level playing field for small companies like C&C competing against International giants.

“Volatile market conditions remain across the industry. However, we are pleased our GB businesses have made a solid start to the second half of the financial year. In Ireland, where the cider category remains highly competitive, trading has been marginally slower than expected.

 

“Looking further ahead we are increasingly confident that our brands, market positions, operational investments and now enhanced route-to-market infrastructure in GB will return the business to growth and deliver enhanced shareholder value over the medium term.”