BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Heineken maintained its forecast for 2023 profit growth with the risk of slower economic expansion in the Asia-Pacific region offset by greater resilience among beer drinkers in Europe.

The world’s second-largest brewer expects its operating profit this year to increase by a mid- to high- single-digit percentage.

“We see signals of a relatively resilient Europe and risks of slower economic growth in Asia Pacific, thus performance across markets may be different than anticipated,” Heineken said.

The Dutch brewer reported a steeper than expected decline in first-quarter beer sales on Wednesday, with a sharp decline in major markets Nigeria and Vietnam, but price hikes and some consumer shift to more expensive beers meant revenue expanded in line with the market consensus.

The brewer – whose namesake brand is Europe’s top-selling beer – said consumer demand in Europe and the Americas was holding up better than expected, but results in the Asia Pacific and the region including Africa were “disappointing”.

Overall beer volumes fell 3.0% in the first quarter, below the average expectation of a 1.9% decline in a company-compiled poll.

Heineken shares were up 2.5% at 102.40 euros in early trading, making them one of the top performers in the FTSEurofirst 300.

The Dutch company, whose brands include Tiger and Sol, said it had built stock levels ahead of the New Year in Vietnam, one of its largest markets, after a steep post-COVID recovery, but momentum stalled due to economic slowdown.

In Nigeria, another large Heineken market, volumes fell sharply due to a transition to new bank notes that left many consumers short of cash. Heineken expected the situation to improve, with the validity of old notes now extended.

Revenue before exceptional items grew 8.9% to 6.38 billion euros ($6.99 billion), exactly in line with expectations.

($1 = 0.9132 euros)

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Louise Heavens and Jane Merriman)

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