AMSTERDAM, July 29 -- Alcohol-free beers drove rising sales at Dutch brewing giant Heineken in the first half of the year, but its shares slumped on Monday as profitability was flat.
The world's second-largest brewer said net profit was down by 1.4 percent to 936 million euros ($1.0 billion) while sales jumped to 13.6 billion euros, up 5.9 percent from the same period last year. Operating profit rose mostly due to a positive effect of currency changes, and its operating profit margin -- revenues minus costs -- actually dipped. The company's shares fell by more than 5.0 percent in midday trading in Amsterdam. A key driver of the Heineken brand's 6.9 percent growth was the demand for low or no-alcohol beer, with Heineken 0.0 now available in 51 markets around the world, the brewer said. Heineken said its partnership within China Resources Beer became effective at the end of April, now giving it access to the fast-growing Chinese premium beer market. Under the deal the Dutch brewer took a 40 percent stake in the holding company that controls China Resources Beer, merged its current operations into the firm and licence it to the Heineken brand for use in the Asian giant. The two firms are joining forces at a time when competition is becoming fierce in the Chinese market, with consumers turning towards foreign beers and premium products as middle class incomes rise.