International brewing giant SABMiller saw a disappointing start to the year, after selling less beer than expected in the first three months of 2009.

The London-based owner of the Miller Lite, Peroni and Grolsch brands said worldwide underlying beer volumes fell one per cent in the last quarter of the year ending March 31.

In a trading statement, the group said: “Economic conditions deteriorated in the second half and consumer demand has fallen in most markets, particularly in the fourth quarter.”

The brewer earns nearly 90 percent of its profits from emerging markets like South Africa, Colombia, Poland and China. It said its financial performance had been hit by currency movements as the dollar strengthened against many emerging currencies.

But the brewer, which is the second largest in the world after Anheuser-Busch InBev, offset this by pushing through price rises and said its financial results for the year to the end of March remained in line with its own expectations.

Overall beer volumes for the 12 months rose two per cent, but were flat on an underlying basis after stripping out the effect of acquisitions.

The group, which also brews Castle, Snow, and Pilsner Urquell beers, said annual underlying volumes rose one per cent in Latin America and by four per cent in its Africa and Asia region, but were flat in Europe and dipped two per cent in South Africa.

In the United States, where it formed the MillerCoors joint venture in July 2008, sales to retailers fell 0.4 per cent in the nine months to the end of march with 0.4 per cent growth seen in the last quarter.

Meanwhile, Warwickshire alemaker Purity Brewing Company has seen a successful first quarter of 2009, after expanding its beers into a further 60 pubs. It brings the number of pubs in the UK where Purity’s beers can be bought to about 350.

Purity has seen sales rise steadily since it produced its first barrel of beer in December 2005 at its converted farm buildings near Alcester.

Managing director Paul Halsey said: “While we are very pleased with the start of the year, we won’t be resting on our laurels. Purity is an ambitious brewery and passionate about producing high quality beers. Our aim is to further promote the brand and introduce the beers to new customers, including younger men and women.”