Heineken CFO on the global slowdown: 'People still go out and drink beer'

Laurence Debroux branded MedResHeinekenHeineken CFO Laurence Debroux.

Laurence Debroux, the chief financial officer (CFO) of Heineken, says the Dutch megabrewer can shrug off low oil prices and the slowdown in emerging markets.

“It’s not that we’re worried,” Debroux told Business Insider from Amsterdam. “It’s a fact of life today. Whoever wants to be in emerging markets — we’ve been in emerging markets for a long time, and we’re planning to stay for a long time — has to learn to deal with volatility.

“First of all, you balance your portfolio with less volatile markets, which is something we’ve done. We wouldn’t have been able to deliver the results we have this year without Europe.”

Debroux spoke to Business Insider just a few hours after Heineken released its full year earnings for 2015, which turned out to be a pretty good year for the company. It announced organic revenue growth of 3.5%, with operating profits up 6.9%, and net profits up 16% to €2.05 billion.

Alongside the profit increase, Heineken also reported success in emerging markets, and, good news for shareholders, an increase of 18% in its dividend for the year.

Debroux added that the global commodities slump has both helped and hindered Heineken in the last year. She says: “It does have a positive impact on some of the logistics prices, and actually some of our raw materials have gone cheaper. But we’re also seeing an impact in the consumer confidence of the market.

“We see that when a country is too dependent on oil that will have an impact on consumer confidence. On the other hand sometimes you see things that are very adaptable. Look at Nigeria [a country heavily dependent on oil]. People do still go out and drink beer, just nothing premium any more for now.”

As well as the company’s flagship namesake beer, Heineken produces brands including Amstel, Murphy’s, Sol, Birra Moretti, Tiger, and many more regional brands.

Debroux says Heineken isn’t worried about the imminent completion of the biggest merger in the history of the global brewing industry. Heineken is set to become the world’s second largest brewer, following the announcement of a merger between AB InBev and SAB Miller late in 2015.

That megadeal — which will give the merged companies more than 30% of the global beer market — has the potential to change the way the world’s brewers operate, but Debroux says she, and Heineken, are not expecting the merger to fundamentally change the way they operate.

“I mean, AB is already pretty big!” she said. “The reason we’re successful is that we don’t compete globally, we compete market by market. In our major markets we don’t compete with one and the other [AB InBev and SAB], we face one or the other, so we won’t really see any massive increase in market share [for the merged companies] anywhere, other than in one or two markets.”

Heineken bills itself as “the world’s most international brewer” and it is that spread across the globe that Debroux says will allow Heineken to weather any storm that comes from the merger of its rivals.

Debroux cited Heineken’s diversity — it is involved in over 80 markets globally — as one of the key reasons that SAB and InBev coming together will not massively change the way the company operates. “We’re not only in six or seven markets,” she said. “It doesn’t really change the competition dynamic.”

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