Drinkers have raised their glasses to the return of full strength Victoria Bitter with sales for the beer growing by 2 per cent for the December quarter, the first time in more than a decade, parent company SABMiller says.
Victoria Bitter, Foster's flagship beer, which returned to full-strength in October, was "benefiting from the brand restoration programme and improved retail engagement", SABMiller said in a statement overnight.
"We just went back to basics and we’re cautiously optimistic," Foster's Group spokesman Jeremy Griffith said.
"We [also] took the advertising and the labelling back to what it traditionally was and tradition has always been it’s a hard-earned thirst. You work hard, you get a beer. That was always the market take and it was always very successful for 30 years.
"When you’ve made your largest brand to turn around for the first time in 10 years, it’s very encouraging."
The result defies brewer Foster's continued drop in sales. Beer sales for Foster's slid four per cent on a pro forma basis, compared with a decline of eight per cent in the first half of 2012.
"Total lager volumes, including discontinued brands, were 15 per cent down," SABMiller, which paid $12.3 billion last year for the acquisition of Foster's in 2011, reported.
"The integration programme in Australia remains ahead of schedule in respect of both synergy delivery and capability build."
Mr Griffith said Foster's goal for Victoria Bitter had been to retain its customers in the subdued Australian beer market, which has been in mild decline since 2008.
"The original tenet was to give the current drinkers a reason not to move away. So to actually increase it ... wasn’t actually the plan," he said.
"It’s early days. We’re pleased but we’re certainly not making any forecasts at this stage."
XXXX Gold, which is owned by Lion, the local subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Kirin, is still Australia's top selling beer by volume despite Victoria Bitter's turnaround.
XXXX Gold has 12.4 per cent of the market compared to VB's 12.1 per cent, according to AC Nielsen data released in November.
Victoria Bitter was the highest-selling beer in its category of alcohol content strength, Mr Griffith said.
In the Asia-Pacific region, China's coldest winter in 28 years hit lager sales and volumes declined three per cent, said SABMiller.
Group organic lager volumes grew two per cent, but without the Chinese decline the figure would have been growth of three per cent, a company spokesman told Reuters.
Financial performance was in line with its expectations, the London-based company said, as revenues rose 17 per cent compared to a year ago on a reported basis, or eight per cent in constant currency terms.