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CORRECTED-(OFFICIAL)-Russians' taste for non-alcoholic beer to grow at double-digit pace, says AB InBev Efes

(AB InBev Efes corrects statement cited in paragraph 7 to show its 11% share of non-alcoholic beer market is in Spain, not Italy)

MOSCOW, June 16 (Reuters) - AB InBev Efes, a Russia-based unit of the world’s largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev , expects double-digit growth in its non-alcoholic local beer sales in the next few years, after COVID-19 accelerated a shift towards healthier lifestyles.

While many beer lovers across the globe shifted to at-home consumption during the pandemic, non-alcoholic beer sales in Russia - the world’s sixth-largest beer market - grew 13% year-on-year, while the overall beer market rose 4%, according to AB InBev Efes.

The company’s own sales of non-alcoholic beer in Russia jumped by 20% last year, Dmitry Shpakov, chief executive officer of AB InBev Efes, told Reuters.

“Healthy lifestyles, which became popular long before the pandemic, gained more momentum last year and contributed to increasing consumer interest in non-alcoholic beer, delivering double-digit growth,” Shpakov said.

AB InBev Efes, which operates in Russia and Ukraine and offers BUD, Stella Artois and Spaten among other brands, expects this trend to continue over the next few years, Shpakov said.

“The (non-alcoholic beer) industry has more than doubled over the last four to five years. And the further ahead we look, the more non-alcoholic beer becomes not a substitute for alcoholic beer, but a category in its own right.”

ONLINE BOOM

Despite the recent surge, the share of non-alcoholic beer on the Russian market accounts for just over 2%, much lower than 11% in Spain or 8% in Germany, Shpakov said.

Mirroring a wider boom in Russia’s e-commerce market, AB InBev Efes’ online sales of non-alcoholic beer, which include lagers, fruit beers and blanches, rose 400% in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, Shpakov said.

Sales of premium beer were also up last year, but AB InBev Efes saw its fastest growth in the imported beer segment, with sales up around 31%, a trend Shpakov said had continued into 2021.

Interest in imported beer and local producers has been underway in Russia for a few years, said Pavel Funtikov of NielsenIQ Russia, as consumer interest in niche, local products and an expanded selection of brands has grown.

AB InBev Efes, Carlsberg and Heineken are Russia’s largest beer market players but the growing number of smaller brewers has cut their market share to 67.5% in 2020 from 81.7% in 2012, according to NielsenIQ. (Reporting by Anna Rzhevkina; Editing by Alexander Marrow and Elaine Hardcastle)

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