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Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (NYSE:BUD)
Q1 2021 Earnings Call
May 06, 2021, 9:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Operator

Welcome to the Anheuser-Busch Inbev first-quarter 2021 earnings conference call and webcast. Hosting the call today from AB InBev are Mr. Carlos Brito, chief executive officer; and Mr. Fernando Tennenbaum, chief financial officer.

To access the slides accompanying today's call, please visit AB InBev's website at www.ab-inbev.com, and click on the Investors tab and the reports and results center page. Today's webcast will be available for on-demand playback later today. [Operator instructions] Some of the information provided during the conference call may contain statements of future expectations and other forward-looking statements. These expectations are based on management's current views and assumptions and involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties.

It is possible that AB InBev's actual results and financial condition may differ, possibly materially from the anticipated results and financial condition indicated in these forward-looking statements. For a discussion of some of the risks and important factors that could affect AB InBev's future results, see risk factors in the company's latest annual report on Form 20-F filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on 19 March 2021. AB InBev assumes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking information provided during the conference call and should not be liable for any action taken in reliance upon such information. It is now my pleasure to turn the floor over to Mr.

Carlos Brito. Sir, you may begin.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Lory. And good morning, good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to our first-quarter 2021 earnings call. I hope you are safe and well.

Before discussing our results, I would like to take a moment to address our other announcement. As most of you probably know by now, today we announced that after 32 incredible years at the company and 15 years as CEO, I'll be stepping down from AB InBev at the end of June. Starting July 1, Michel Doukeris, who has very successfully led our North America zone for the past three years, will become AB InBev's new CEO. Throughout his career at AB InBev, Michel has consistently delivered strong results while serving in key leadership roles in Brazil, China, and the U.S., three of the company's largest markets.

I have the utmost confidence that he is the right person to lead our company through its next phase of growth and value creation. I wish Michel the very best as he begins his new role. When I joined Brahma in 1989, I never imagined the journey our company and I would embark on over the next three decades. I'm immensely proud of what this team has accomplished together.

We've built the leading and most profitable global brewer with the best brands and more importantly, the best people. We grew the company both organically and inorganically through industry-defining combinations. Today, we have an unparalleled portfolio of brands, including the most valuable beer brand in the world, Budweiser, and our two other leading global brands, Stella Artois, and Corona We became one of the top -- one of the world's leading FMCG companies with operations in nearly 50 markets, our brands sold in more than 180 countries and selling more than one out of every four beers in the world. I want to thank all 164,000 colleagues of mine who made this all possible through their energy, passion, commitment, and resilience.

It has been an honor and privilege to work with such a talented group of individuals as we build this global company based on strong values and our unwavering commitment to excellence, quality, consumers, and communities. I want to thank our shareholders and analysts for the time devoted to AB InBev. I know you will enjoy getting to know Michel. Now let me take you through our agenda today.

I'd like to start with how we at AB InBev are doing our part to support the global economic recovery. I'll then take you through our first-quarter results, including highlights from our key markets. Next, I'll walk through our Beyond Beer strategy. I will then hand it over to Fernando, who will take you through our financials.

We'll then be happy to take your questions. Let's start with what we're doing to support the recovery. Beer has always been a strong engine of economic activity. Our beers are almost entirely sourced, brewed, and enjoyed locally, deeply connecting us to the communities where we live and work.

The beer industry generates local jobs upstream in farming, brewing, bottling, and recycling and downstream, supporting local retailers, bars, and restaurants. For instance, for every job in a brewery in the U.S., over 30 jobs are created in the supply chain. This multiplier is much higher in developing economies. We have an opportunity to recover from the pandemic in a way that's both environmentally and socially sustainable.

Our strong value chain can positively impact the economy given its breadth and depth, putting us in a unique position to support the recovery. Across our operations, we continue to invest behind our business, expanding our facilities, production capacity, and most importantly, creating jobs. For example, in the U.S., we're investing USD 1 billion over the next two years in manufacturing and sustainability across 26 states. In China, we invest in our brewing footprint and capabilities with the new smart green brewery in Wenzhou.

In the U.K., we announced a GBP 150 million investment in two major breweries to increase capacity and efficiency. In Mozambique, we recently opened a new 2.4 million hectoliter brewery, representing the biggest investment ever in the brewing sector in that country. We believe the fastest way to bring people together, again, is through a safe and effective global vaccine rollout. Using our marketing expertise, we developed a toolkit in partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, UNITAR, to create successful vaccination campaigns through public-private partnerships.

We're also leveraging our scale and reach to accelerate the vaccine rollout across our markets. In the U.S., Budweiser donated its Super Bowl airtime to raise vaccine awareness. In Colombia, we led COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in partnership with the Ministry of Health. In Argentina, we set up a vaccination site administering 1,000 vaccines per day.

We're committed to supporting our communities and doing our part to accelerate a safe and sustainable recovery. Now let me take you through the results of the quarter. Our business is off to a very strong start in 2021. We delivered balanced top-line growth of 17.2%, comprised of 13.3% volume growth and 3.7% revenue per hectoliter growth, driven primarily by favorable brand mix from the outperformance of our premium portfolio.

Our beer volumes grew by nearly 15%, while our non-beer volumes grew by 4%. Total volumes were ahead of pre-pandemic levels as well, with beer volume growth of 2.8% versus the first quarter of 2019. Healthy revenue growth and ongoing cost discipline translated to an EBITDA increase of 14.2% and an EBITDA margin of 34.7%. Positive brand mix and ongoing cost discipline was somewhat offset by anticipated pressures from transactional FX and commodity headwinds, channel and packaging mix and an increase in our SG&A as a result of higher variable compensation accruals, which are recorded by quarter at the zone levels depending on operational performance.

Our normalized EPS increased to $0.51, while underlying EPS increased to $0.55. We're reaching more consumers than ever before with a portfolio approach. This quarter, we gained share in the core and value segments across our markets. Our premium portfolio grew by double digits, and our Beyond Beer business grew by over 40%.

Our digital platforms continue to gain scale, with our B2B platform BEES capturing over $3 billion in GMV in our own e-commerce business, quadrupling in size. Now let me take you through some highlights from our key markets. In the U.S., we delivered top and bottom-line growth, driven by the consistent execution of our consumer-first strategy. We continue to strengthen our industry-leading portfolio by rebalancing toward faster-growing above core segments.

In Mexico, we delivered top-line growth of high single digits, with both volume and revenue per hectoliter growing by mid-single digits, outperforming the industry. Our business in Colombia continued its strong momentum, delivering top and bottom-line growth above 20%, with robust performance across all segments of our portfolio. Our business in Brazil delivered a strong start of the year. Our beer business, again, outperformed the industry according to our estimates, growing volumes by nearly 16% and above pre-pandemic levels.

In Europe, our business continues to be impacted by significant COVID-19 restrictions. Our own beer volumes, excluding third-party volumes were flat year over year, as we delivered double-digit growth in the off-premise channel, powered by our premium portfolio. In South Africa, our business was significantly impacted by a one-month government-mandated ban on alcohol sales, which resulted in a volume decline in the quarter. Once the ban was lifted, we saw solid underlying consumer demand for our brands.

In China, our business delivered over 90% revenue growth surpassing pre-COVID-19 levels, driven by ongoing premiumization. Volumes grew by nearly 85%, estimated to be ahead of the industry. Now I'd like to spend some time highlighting our premium portfolio. Premiumization of the beer industry remains one of our most significant opportunities for growth.

We have been investing to build a diverse portfolio of global, international and craft and specialty premium brands across all markets, making us the largest premium brewer in the world. Our premium portfolio now represents more than 30% of our total revenue, an increase of more than six percentage points from 2017 and grew by 28% in the first quarter. This growth is accretive to our bottom line as our premium brands carry a higher dollar profit per hectoliter than our core brands. Our global brands continue to lead the way in premiumization, with global revenue up by 29.5% and by 46.4% outside of their brand's home markets where they typically command a premium price point.

All three of our global brands, Budweiser, Stella Artois, and Corona, grew by double digits versus the same period in both 2020 and 2019. Now I'd like to take you through our strategy to drive growth in Beyond Beer. The lines between the established segments within alcohol, beer, wine, and spirits continue to blur. A fourth category, defined as the intersection between these segments, has emerged as a relevant player with significant growth potential.

We call this category Beyond Beer, and it includes products such as ready-to-drink beverages like canned wine and canned cocktails, hard seltzer, cider, and flavored malt beverages. This segment is expected to grow by 45% between 2019 and 2024, and is estimated to grow to $58 billion in global sales by 2024 according to Euromonitor. We believe we have the right strategy and capabilities to win in this space by leveraging our agile innovation process, diverse geographic footprint, global supply chain, and extensive route to market. As markets mature, consumer needs and occasions evolve.

It is critical to offer a portfolio of options to our consumers to drive growth. Beyond Beer products can offer functional benefits or attributes that are not offered by traditional beer, wine or spirits. When exploring this space, it's key for us to understand and map the specific opportunities where we have the capabilities and the right to win. Our teams stay close to emerging trends in the Beyond Beer space and are empowered to invest in both organic and inorganic growth opportunities.

Each of these opportunities goes through a seed-and-launch phase designed to test and learn, and then either growth and scale or pivot fast. Successful organic ventures include BEATS in Brazil, Brutal Fruit in South Africa. On the inorganic side, we have added brands such as Cutwater, Babe, and Nutrl to our portfolio as well. We're building a strong and diverse portfolio Beyond Beer products globally.

We're launching Mike's Hard, a brand we own everywhere outside of the U.S. across our footprint. It will be available in more than 20 countries by the end of this year in both the Mike's Hard Lemonade and Mike's Hard Seltzer variants. In the U.S., our largest Beyond Beer market that represents approximately half of our global Beyond Beer volume, we have significantly enhanced our presence in the hard seltzer segment with Bud Light Seltzer and the more recent launches of Michelob ULTRA Organic Seltzer and CACTI.

We're expanding products like hard seltzer to new geographies. A great example is the launch of Michelob ULTRA Hard Seltzer in Mexico, where it has already captured approximately 45% market share of the developing seltzer segment, more than the next three brands combined. Our portfolio is already global, with around 90 brands in approximately 40 countries. Our Beyond Beer portfolio is growing fast.

The business delivered $1.2 billion in revenue in 2020 and grew over 40% in first-quarter '21. This incremental growth is also accretive to our bottom line. On average, our Beyond Beer products have a 20% higher gross profit per hectoliter than our traditional beer portfolio. With that, I'd like to hand it over to Fernando to discuss our financials.

Fernando?

Fernando Tennenbaum -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Brito. Good morning, good afternoon, everyone. I hope you are all safe and well. Let me first take you through the drivers of our underlying EPS.

Our underlying EPS increased by $0.04 from $0.51 to $0.55. Our strong performance in the quarter drove an increase in EBIT that equates to $0.15 per share. We are also -- we also recorded lower net finance costs, worth $0.06 per share. These benefits were partially offset by higher non-controlling interest worth $0.08 per share, resulting from higher profits of our listed subsidiaries Budweiser APAC and InBev, along with the issuance of a 49.9% minority stake in our U.S.-based metal container operations in December 2020.

We also saw higher income tax expenses due to country mix and reduced benefits of tax attributes worth $0.07 per share. On Slide 22, you will see that our debt maturity profile is well distributed across the next several years with no significant maturities over the next five years. We maintained more than $24 billion of liquidity at the end of 2020. As a reminder, we do not have any financial covenants on our entire debt portfolio, including our sustainability-linked revolving credit facility.

Our bond portfolio remains largely insulated from interest rate volatility, as approximately 96% on a fixed rate. Furthermore, the portfolio is comprised of a variety of currencies, with 51% denominated in U.S. dollars, 37% in euro, and the remainder in currencies, such as Canadian dollar, pound sterling, and Korean won, diversifying our FX risk. The weighted average maturity of our debt portfolio is more than 16 years.

Finally, we continue to have a very manageable weighted average coupon rate of approximately 4%. I will now take you through our capital allocation priorities, which remain unchanged. The first priority for the use of cash is to invest behind our brands and to take full advantage of the organic growth opportunities in our business. Second, deleveraging to around two times net debt-to-EBITDA ratio remains our commitment and we will prioritize debt repayment in order to meet this objective.

Third, with respect to M&A, we'll always be ready to look at opportunities when and if they arise, subject to our strict financial discipline and deleveraging commitments. Our fourth priority is returning excess cash to shareholders in the form of dividends and/or share buybacks. Before handing back to Lory to begin the Q&A session, I would like to announce changes to our Investor Relations team. Lauren Abbott, our current head of investor relations will be assuming a new position as the global VP of economic policies and continue reporting to me.

Shaun Fullalove, who has been in the company for 10 years, will succeed Lauren as our global VP of investor relations. And now over to Lory to begin the Q&A session.

Questions & Answers:


Operator

Thank you. [Operator instructions] Our first question comes from the line of Trevor Stirling of Bernstein.

Trevor Stirling -- Sanford C. Bernstein -- Analyst

Good morning, Brito and Fernando. So firstly, Brito, no questions, but just a big thank you from me for 15 years of patience going through earnings calls, 15 years, follow-up sessions. You've been uniformly polite and patient with all our questions. Thank you very much, and best wishes for whatever the next chapter holds.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Trevor. It's been a pleasure.

Trevor Stirling -- Sanford C. Bernstein -- Analyst

Now to the questions. At Brazil, Brito, phenomenal price/mix in beer Brazil. I think it was 12.6% in the Ambev accounts. Can you give us just a little bit of color about what combination of price, reduced promo, channel pack mix, premium brands, et cetera, drove that very, very strong price/mix? And then sort of longer-term, bigger-picture question.

You're quoted on Bloomberg saying that Michel is more in tune with the next phase and what's needed. And I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about what you think and clearly it's Michel's decision ultimately, what that -- how that phase will be different from the recent past?

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, thanks for the question, Trevor. So to your first question about price in Brazil. Yes. Indeed.

I mean, revenue per hectoliter in Brazil grew by -- revenue per hectoliter grew by 10.7% in Q1 '21, primarily due to positive mix from beer, growing faster than non-beer, so that's the first thing. And revenue management initiatives in both our beer and non-beer business. So the Brazil beer net revenue growth was due to like a combination of factors: Promotional activity strategy, like you mentioned; our price increase carryover from last year; and a positive brand mix, partially offset by pack mix. So brand mix in Brazil was a big factor here.

So that was a bit of the explanation for the net revenue in Brazil, net revenue per hectoliter. In terms of Michel, what I said is that Michel and I have very similar -- we're very similar in many ways in that we both believe strongly in our culture, in our values, and our principles. We both prioritize people above all things. And we both believe that our internal colleagues are our greatest assets and strength.

So no change there. But Michel has had a different career within the company. And I came from Brazil into Canada, Belgium, and then global. Michel went from Brazil to China to U.S.

and he led those markets. And in China, he saw a consumer that was very digital, a market that was very fast in terms of innovation, everything was about innovation. The business of ours in China that was all about premium, super premium, very different than other markets of ours, in which we lead the profitability in China. The profit pool in China will lead by far, even if you add the next three, four competitors, as you know, Trevor.

So he saw that in China. And when he came to the U.S., he was quickly to build a very diverse team, very talented team. And he understood the U.S. market where consumers are growing, the trends, insights, pre-COVID, after COVID, during COVID, and he was able to come up with a strategy that was simple, effective, that worked and that has been consistent.

So I think he brings a new set of experience within our company and a fresh pair of eyes. And right now, as you know, we're very big on our business transformation enabled by technology. You've seen our B2B platforms, B2C platforms, direct-to-consumer platforms. And the motto in our company is deliver and transform.

So if you look at our business, last year, travel, second half. This year, it's on a very strong momentum, gaining share, growing volumes, numbers -- P&L makes sense, beautiful shape. And so we're delivering. And at the same time, we're transforming.

If you look at our BEES business, has already 25% of our customers already in BEES, GMV growing very fast. If you look at our D2C, also growing very fast, our D2C had almost 20 times as many orders in 2020 as it had in 2019. And despite that strong base, we grew again in the first quarter 50% on top. So I think it's a very strong momentum we have in both delivery and transform.

And Michel is very tech savvy, and I think he will continue on that journey. So the world is changing fast. We have a new combination of levers going forward, as you know, between delivery and transform. And Michel is very attuned.

He was part of the strategy elaboration. He was part of my team. So key member in elaborating that strategy. So he's very supportive of that strategy.

Thank you.

Trevor Stirling -- Sanford C. Bernstein -- Analyst

Super. Thank you very much, Brito.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Trevor.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Pinar Ergun of Morgan Stanley.

Pinar Ergun -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Hello. Thanks for taking my question. Brito and Lauren, all the best for the future. And congratulations to Michel and Shaun for your new roles.

I had a question on pricing and commodities. Are you confident about ABI's ability to pass-through rising input cost prices as you look ahead to the remainder of 2021 and even '22? Or should we perhaps be more cautious about the margin evolution going forward? And if you're planning to raise prices, how would you go about managing the volume response to that, particularly in markets like Brazil, which are facing some tough comps later in the year? Now this question is about the whole group globally, but it would be very helpful if you could please also comment on Brazil specifically. Thank you.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Hi. So, yes, going to this question. First, I mean, our long strategy has not -- our long-term strategy has not changed.

Our price is in line with inflation, and we also passed tax increases to the consumer. So that's our long-term strategy, it has always been. It doesn't mean that it's true every quarter, every year, depending on the magnitude of changes, but that's long term, where we're headed. With respect to pricing, we take many factors into consideration at the local level, pricing is a very local thing.

So to try to strike the right balance, as you said, between volume and price, so we take into account inflation, not only CPI, but beer inflation, general CPI, but also beer inflation. We look at the health of the consumer. We look at affordability, relative beer prices to other substitutes, taxes, competitive environment. So lots of things go into making a decision about pricing, and it's a local decision.

You're right. We're currently seeing an inflationary environment across some of our main markets, including the cost of raw materials. This will be a relevant consideration for sure for our pricing decisions. It's also true that in light of our 12-month rolling hedging policy we're facing this year impacts that were borne last year in terms of transaction effects and commodity headwinds that we hedged last year.

On the other hand, our hedging policies give us time to plan and to react and to work on initiatives to offset this impact. So this year, 2021, top-line growth is expected to come from a healthy combination of volume and price, as I said before. And last point is that our industry-leading profitability gives us flexibility to weather short-term volatility, preventing us from having to make any short-term decisions that could be detrimental to the business long term. So long answer, but just giving you a framework on how we think about prices.

And Brazil is no different. Brazil is no different. Brazil will follow the same kind of guidelines in thinking about pricing.

Pinar Ergun -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thank you. Very helpful.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Olivier Nicolai of Goldman Sachs.

Olivier Nicolai -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Hi. Good morning. Just first a follow-up on Trevor's questions on the revenue per hectoliter increase in Brazil in Q1, which was particularly strong. I was just wondering how sustainable is that kind of growth and for how long do you think that this reduction in promotion will last? And then second question is actually on Nigeria, you mentioned supply constraint.

I was just wondering if it was relating to capacity, you being at full capacity? And when do you think this will be resolved?

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

I'll start with Nigeria. So in Nigeria, there were many issues with supply for various reasons. And we have a disadvantage that is going to be fixed, which is we don't have much warehousing at the port level, and that gives us a disadvantage compared to other competitors there in terms of having more stuff in-house. And when the ports get congested, we don't have that buffer.

So that's going to be corrected. The other one is that we had fire in our [Inaudible] brewery, and that impacted one of our production lines. So that was also something that was a problem. And the third one was that we started the year with very low inventories because we had such a great fourth quarter.

And we also had that -- those protests last year that also caused us to lose some days of production. So you combine low inventories with supply chain challenges and with the fire in our brewery, so yes, that's the explanation. But all those things are transitory in nature. What's important to say in Nigeria is that our brands are very strong.

We have the strongest brand in the country. And as soon as these things are fixed, we'll resume our momentum. I have no doubts. In terms of price in Brazil, we have historically taken prices every year pretty much.

We continue to look at prices. We just took a price increase in June, right, so we announced that we're going to take a price increase in June, that is same. And so again, our pricing performance in Brazil in the Q1 has been because of the carryover we had also because of premiumization, also because of innovation. Right? So all those things were very important.

We are, of course, looking at inflationary environment that is happening in Brazil. And we intend to keeping that balance between share and net revenue. But of course, that will be a very important component in our price increase decisions. So again, not very different from how we do it on a global basis.

But yes, Brazil, we are alert because average inflation pressure is there as well as in other countries.

Olivier Nicolai -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Thank you very much, Brito, for your time over the years, and congratulations, partly for implementing the "bringing people together for a better world" agenda, which I'm sure over the last 15 years, as you as a CEO had a massive impact on millions of people.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Olivier. Thank you very much.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Simon Hales of Citi.

Simon Hales -- Citi -- Analyst

Thank you. Hi, Brito. Hi, Fernando. Can I also just like, Brito, everyone else's comments there, thank you for your time, and wish you all the very best.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Simon Hales -- Citi -- Analyst

I had a couple of questions, if possible. I want to firstly, thanks for providing the EBITDA guidance today. Could I just sort of clarify the EBITDA base in 2020 you're using to make that assumption of 8% to 12% organic growth from. I think if I remember, you reported, I think, $17.3 billion of EBITDA last year, but that did include almost $500 million in Q4 of what I think was one-off tax credits in Brazil.

I just wanted to just make sure we're starting off with the right sort of base. And secondly, I wonder if I could ask you a little bit more about the distribution agreements with Sazerac and Red Bull you've signed in China. Really what the strategy is there? And could we see more of those sort of distribution partners with premium spirits suppliers in other markets? Or is this really just a China-specific initiative?

Fernando Tennenbaum -- Chief Financial Officer

Hi, Simon. Fernando here. I'm going to get the first one and then going to turn on to Brito. On the first one, it excludes the Brazilian tax credits.

We excluded last year from the organic performance, and we are excluding that from the guidance as well. So it's an organic EBITDA growth guidance, 8% to 12%, excluding the Brazilian tax credits.

Simon Hales -- Citi -- Analyst

Got it.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

And in terms of the second question, in terms of the second question, I mean, these partnerships are totally connected to our premiumization strategy in China that has always been our strategy. It will further enhance our portfolio of Beyond Beer, the segment that is growing so fast. We're very excited to include these premium spirits, including Fireball and the premium energy drink on a global basis, Red Bull for our Beyond Beer portfolio. So we're going to be the exclusive distributors in Mainland China.

It will start on June 1, and it will include Fireball, Buffalo Trace, Southern Comfort and other premium spirits from Sazerac. This will allow us to enter the high-end spirits market in China, so very exciting. And it will allow us to capture different drinking occasions, different diverse drinking occasions, which are complementary to beer. And in terms of Red Bull, it's great to have that national distribution partnership, knowing that Red Bull is well known as the leading premium energy drink, and that, again, will enable us to target broader drinking occasions.

And it's important to say that both portfolios are margin accretive, and both industries are expected to grow as consumers have stronger buying powers. And we'll be focused on the regions with high consumer demand based on our market maturity model. And just the last point, many of our premium wholesalers, which already operates in nightlife and western bars, are very interested in expanding into premium spirits business. So these two brands -- or two brand portfolios being added can create positive synergies with our existing portfolio and route to market.

So it's win-win big time.

Simon Hales -- Citi -- Analyst

That's great. Could I just come back on the guidance again? And just I wonder if you could just sort of share a little bit about the shape of margin development through the remainder of the year. And there's clearly lots of moving parts going on with the transactional FX headwinds in the first half in Latin America, particularly for beer, we're probably easing into H2. But then also as we go into Q2, you should have easier margin comparatives in areas like Mexico and South Africa given the issues last year.

How should we just think about H1 versus H2 margin development overall? Clearly, full-year margins are still going to be negative. But are margins going to be worse in the second half than they are in the first half at the group level, do you think? Any color you can give to help us with our modeling, please?

Fernando Tennenbaum -- Chief Financial Officer

Simon, we are not being so precise about quarter on quarter. But as you'd expect, probably we have the easier comps on Q2 given that was the quarter that was mostly affected by COVID last year. And also, we know that the first half of the year, especially Q1, we're seeing less pressure on FX than you're going to see toward the end of the year. And the H2, we're going to have slightly more commodity pressure.

So given our 12 months had polished, so you just look at how these two -- both FX and commodity behavior last year, and you can extrapolate that for 2021. But we are not being so precise of how it's going to be the impact every quarter.

Simon Hales -- Citi -- Analyst

That's really helpful, Fernando. Thank you, and thank you, Brito. All the best. Thanks.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Sanjeet Aujla of Credit Suisse.

Sanjeet Aujla -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Hey, Brito, Fernando. A couple of questions from me, please. Firstly, on Middle Americas, pretty, pretty exceptional volume performance, particularly looking against pre-pandemic levels. What's really driving that? And is there any Easter timing benefit maybe helping that? My second question is on BEES.

Based on your learning so far, what are the biggest opportunities here? Is it category expansion? Is it revenue per hectoliter? Is it a combination of both? I'd love to get your thoughts on that. Thank you.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Sanjeet. In terms of MARS, I mean, MARS has been always, for many years now, a source of amazing value creation, and this quarter was no different. The portfolio is growing because we have -- we understand consumers. We have a portfolio that is a winning portfolio.

All our brands are gaining brand power. We have an amazing execution in the marketplace. We're also developing the platforms of BEES, and also D2C, direct-to-consumer. We have the Modelorama, the Modelorama stores that will be a big help to develop faster the last mile to consumers in our D2C efforts.

And we have the OXXO expansion. It is true to say that two-thirds approximately of the portfolio of our share gain in Mexico is due to our internal factors and one-third to OXXO. And OXXO is still -- there's lots of OXXO to come. But again, it's also interesting to say that our portfolio continues to grow even outside of OXXO.

So it's about actions and operations. It's about understanding consumers, investing the right brands, having a portfolio that appeals to the segments, to the occasions, pre-COVID, during COVID, and we're thinking the new normal, innovation. So it's really all this together. In terms of BEES, BEES brings a whole bunch of -- it's a whole bunch of possibility, think about this.

In the old days, there was a sales rep that would go to a park. And that sales rep would sometimes churn, either leave the company for some reason or get promoted, and there will be somebody else. So BEES is an investment in customer centricity, not park centricity. And it's capturing data that won't go away.

In the case of sales rep, the sales would leave -- the sales rep would leave that data, he would go away part of it. It means every transaction there is, we have more data points. And with these data points, you have optimization engines in terms of pricing, assortment, promotion, suggested orders, all the things that are behind the platform. And we get to know our customer better.

And as you get to know their customer -- our customer better, we offer them things that are more relevant to their business and make them more successful. And as they grow, we'll grow as well. So BEES, as to your question, yes, it's driving incremental revenue growth through the acceleration of our base business and expanding to new offerings like marketplace. BEES captured over $3 billion in GMV in the first quarter, which is equivalent to the GMV it captured for the whole of last year, so a growth of more than 50% from the fourth quarter.

It is already live in 11 markets in the Americas, mostly. In seven markets out of the 11, it's more than 50% of our net revenue through BEES, and we continue to expand. And we now have 1.5 million users, monthly active users in our platforms, and that's a 60% increase versus December last year. So BEES is not about cost reduction, it's about elevating our relationship with our customers by addressing their pain points and enhancing their business performance.

If they win, we win. So a big transformation initiative, and it's redefining the way our sales operation works.

Sanjeet Aujla -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Great. Thank you for your time over the years, Brito, and best wishes for the future.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Sanjeet.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Laurence Whyatt of Barclays.

Laurence Whyatt -- Barclays -- Analyst

Hi. Thanks very much for the questions. A couple for me as well. Firstly, on your guidance of 8% to 12% EBITDA growth organically, I was just wondering what are your assumptions on the various external factors that are going on globally, so particularly around COVID and various reopening plans that are potentially happening in Europe this quarter? And what are your internal expectations on those sort of government restrictions in order to hit that guidance? And secondly, on BEES, you gave a number of geographies that were particularly successful.

But where do you see the next rollout taking place for that software? Thank you very much.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

So, I mean, in terms of our guidance, we have to talk about what it changed because the basic guidance is still totally true. Because we said that we expect top-line growth from a healthy combination of volume and price, that's true. We said that we expect our top and bottom-line results to improve meaningfully versus 2020. So everything we said there, it's true, but we added to it.

So why we added? Because we had a very strong start of the year and because of the global development in the fight against COVID-19. So we decided to specify that we expect our EBITDA to grow between 8% to 12% and our revenue to grow ahead of EBITDA from a healthy combination of volume and price. So as you see, this number is still meaningful numbers. So we didn't change anything.

We just decided to specify. And why we did that? Because of two things: the strong start of the year and the new news in terms of vaccinations and openings that are now more current. This guidance, as you said, is based on some assumptions. First assumption is the reopening rates, particularly the on-premise channel, that they continue at the current pace.

That's our assumption. Second, no full operational shutdowns in our markets, as we saw in South Africa in January. So we're not assuming anything of that sort going forward. Third, that the transactional effect in commodity costs will -- as we know, will be worse than 2020.

So that's in there. Fourth, that the channel and package mix improving throughout the year, will continue to improve and better than 2020, but still worse in 2019. So somewhere in the middle between '19 and '20 as situation continues to improve and restrictions are eased. And the last but not least, the year-on-year increase in variable compensation, driven by improved operational performance as compared to last year, where most colleagues didn't receive a bonus.

So that's also something to think about. Our compensation system is connected -- is directly connected to value creation and what you investors feel. So if you have a good year, we have a good year. If you have a bad year, we have a bad year.

And last year was a bad year. So we also had no bonus. So this year, given the strong start, given our guidance, we are beginning to build the provisions for our variable compensation. And that is something that, of course, impacts SG&A.

And of course, the payout will depend on the final year achievements and also depend on cash flow, revenue growth, and organic EBITDA that are our targets. But given the strong start of the year and the fact that we have now our specific guidance for EBITDA, we're also accruing more bonus, which impacts SG&A, which impacts margin. In terms of BEES, as you said -- as I said before, BEES is a transformation activity for us. We're very excited.

It's amazing if you compare to two, three years, it starts writing code, code that's useful to our parks, that's why they're adopting. We're not forcing them to adopt. They're adopting because it makes their life easier, their business more successful, because it's more relevant to them. Because the platform knows more and more every transaction about what's interesting for them, what makes shift for them.

And we are pretty much in the Americas, but beginning to branch out to other countries that are not public yet. But we'll continue to roll out. But of course, specific markets would be communicated in due course.

Laurence Whyatt -- Barclays -- Analyst

That's great, Brito. Thanks very much. And I'll echo everyone else's comments, best of luck with the next stage in your journey. Thank you very much.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Laurence. Thank you so much.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Mitch Collett of Deutsche Bank.

Mitch Collett -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Hi, Brito. I've got two questions, please. One, I think is for Fernando. Can you perhaps provide a bit of color on tax guidance of 28% to 30%.

And I appreciate there's probably a lot of moving parts, but that's why it's a lot higher than the ETR in 2019? Can you perhaps give some guidance on what sort of level we should expect for tax in the long term? And then just a broader question on margins. Clearly, this isn't a normal year. But your guidance obviously suggests that margins will be down versus 2020. I think margins peaked EBITDA margins in 2018.

Can you see a route back to that level of profitability long term? And can you talk about the drivers to get you there? Thank you.

Fernando Tennenbaum -- Chief Financial Officer

Mitch, Fernando here. So let me start on the tax one. So our effective tax rate is a function of the countries where we operate. So if you look at the weighted average tax rates of the countries you operate and they count and -- because we actually produce and pay tax locally in each one of the countries, and our effective tax rate, this is somewhat similar.

We decided to -- similar to what we did in the organic EBITDA growth, we decided it was appropriate to quantify and put as a guidance for this year that we expect to be in the range of 28% to 30%. So we are not giving any guidance further out. But probably you can always refer back to what I mentioned in the beginning, that our current tax rate is similar to the weighted average tax rate on the countries in which we operate.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

In terms of -- go ahead.

Mitch Collett -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

I was just going to follow up and say, does that imply that if you get back to the geographic split you had in 2019, it's more likely to be closer to 2019 than the guidance you've given for 2021 longer term?

Fernando Tennenbaum -- Chief Financial Officer

No. No. We have a different geographic split in 2019 than the one we have now. And we have different countries growing at different rates.

What I'm saying is that our current tax rate and the one we are guiding, it's very closely related to the weighted average tax rate from the countries in which we operate and we should pay taxes locally. So we are giving this guidance for this year, but we're not giving any guidance so far further out.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

In terms of -- the second question was about EBITDA margin recovery. Right, Mitch?

Mitch Collett -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Yes. Yes.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. So in terms of the EBITDA margin. First, we have to look at EBITDA margin in the context of many other things. But we've talked already about this in some of the calls.

But I think what's important too, in terms of EBITDA margin recovery is that a couple of things will make that margin go back. OK? So right now, we're being pressured for all the things we know. Right? Emerging market currencies, dislocations by COVID in terms of brand, channel mix, package, all these things are creating the kind of pressure on margins. And also just the volume deleverage as volume went down.

So what's going to recover margin? It's going to be volume growth as we resume growth like we have now. As we resume growth, that's going to be very important for margin because then you have that volume -- the volume leverage coming back to play, which has always been part of our margin structure. The on-trade reopening will get their RGB, the returnable glass bottles back in place, which has always been important in our margin structure. The growth of core plus and premium portfolio, including Beyond Beer, that will continue to positively impact our net revenue and dollar margins, that will be key as well, OK.

And that's something new that was not present in the structure in the past. The innovation pipeline that we're getting better and better at, as we go -- Beyond Beer included, as we go to other occasions within beer, as we expand our portfolio following consumers because that's where growth is. And again, that's going to be key. And a lot of the innovation is in the core plus and above.

As we invest strategic CAPEX in things like technology, B2B, B2C, those margins are interesting, very interesting when this business gets to scale. As we correct footprint efficiencies we have, as we sold some supply chain bottlenecks we have and as we continue to invest in getting closer and closer to consumers and customers with more information, that will make our marketing dollars more efficient as well. And our strong financial discipline around costs and expenses in general, that has always been a hallmark of the company. So a lot of these things I said were part of the old margin structure.

Some are present here, some are new. But what I can tell you is that that reference you have in mind, and I have in mind, will continue to be the high watermark that we all intend to get to and go beyond. So that hasn't changed. But when you think about emerging markets in the last few years, it has been a tough ride in terms of currency, FX, and also commodities.

When you think about COVID, our industry was one that was the hardest hit, together with hotels and travel and things like that. Why? Because we're dependent on channels that were -- one-third of our business that was shut down, like the on-trade. And we had businesses of ours, like in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, and South Africa that were shut down for two months or more. And we continue to have restrictions.

The only country that's totally without restrictions today is China. All other countries of ours have some kind of curfew, some kind of mandated closing hours, some kind of restrictions. So we're not there yet. So as you recover all that, we have in mind what you have in mind, which is to go back to the kind of margins, EBITDA margins we had prior.

On the other hand, I think it's important to see that as our business grows more and more into other categories, we need to think also at dollar margins as opposed to U.S. EBITDA margin. Thank you.

Mitch Collett -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Thank you, Brito, and thank you for all your help and patience over the years and best wishes for the future.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Mitch.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Edward Mundy of Jefferies.

Edward Mundy -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Morning, Brito, Fernando. Two questions from me. The first is just a point of clarification on the guidance. I think the guidance of 8% to 10% reflects your current assessment on the scale and magnitude of the pandemic, i.e., it's a snapshot based on what you're seeing today.

I appreciate you've got no crystal ball, but if underlying conditions improve further and you get a further reopening or the on-trade comes back quicker, is that reflected in the guide? First question. And then the second is really around BEES and to what extent this is a facilitator of improving execution. I mean you've been pushing the portfolio gains for several years now since the SAB transaction or the catch expansion model, but you are starting to see some pretty decent results in terms of volume picking up, market share, premiumization and really getting the portfolio moving in the right direction. The question is to what extent is BEES the real facilitator of this improving execution?

Fernando Tennenbaum -- Chief Financial Officer

Fernando here. So I'm going to take the first question. So just a clarification, our guidance is not 8% to 10%, it's 8% to 12% organic growth, EBITDA. And this is our current assessment today.

On the next quarter, if for whatever reason, we see the conditions move into another direction, then we will give further update. But for now, this is our best judgment, best assumption, and that's the one that we are comfortable to share.

Edward Mundy -- Jefferies -- Analyst

And is that based on the level of openness, the right word, as we see today as opposed to what you think it's going to look like in three, six months?

Fernando Tennenbaum -- Chief Financial Officer

It's basically on the data that we have today, which is the current status of the market and our assumptions on how the market will evolve, the reopening rates, what is going to be the pace of reopening of the different markets on-premise or other restrictions that are out there. It is our current assumption, and that is what embedded into the 8% to 12% guidance. And the next one, I'll turn over to Brito.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

On the second one, if I understood correctly, you're asking about category expansion framework. Right? The framework we've been using since 2017.

Edward Mundy -- Jefferies -- Analyst

It's more a question of to what extent BEES is really accelerating the market share performance as well as the revenue perhaps leads to a step-up.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

You mean BEES?

Edward Mundy -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Yes, BEES. Yes.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

OK. Sorry, I misunderstood your question. No. No.

For sure. I mean, BEES is something that -- think about this, every time there's a transaction with a park, BEES captures everything about that transaction. How the customer navigated the different screens in the app, what made him or her stop, what kind of things we offered that he or she didn't click on. So, I mean, you start having an idea of what kind of customer you have on the other side of the app.

And because of that, you have a whole bunch of algorithms that are optimizing for different functions. And in terms of assortment, in terms of premium or less premium offerings to this park given its profile, in terms of pricing, in terms of promotion, in terms of new launches, and BEES is learning every day. And BEES is not dependent on a human being that leaves tomorrow, sales rep or a telesales agent that forgot to put something on the screen as an observation. BEES captures every piece of data that we get for every interaction.

So the more interactions you have, the more this AI/ML machines and the optimization engines become better. They also help -- given the profile of the park, they help execution drivers in the park. So they say, OK, for this park, execution driver is one-two. For this one, it's three-four.

So we'll continue to have a BDR, a business development rep that will continue to visit less frequently. So whenever this person goes, the algorithm will also tell what can increase sales in that park compared to the neighbor park. So all this driven by algorithms that are smart, that are trying to optimize functions. So yes, there will be incremental revenue growth, enables better execution, gets premiumization up, expands our assortment, deals better without a stock.

Because the optimization algorithm will say, "Hey, I know." The algorithm knows the calendar, so knows there is a football game coming next weekend and maybe the order that came or the suggested order is already implicit or it already has that implicit that the game is coming up. So the suggested order will be higher. And we see every time that BEES, every data goes past, we see more and more customers adhering to the suggested order because the suggested order knowing everything about the customer is being more relevant and more tailored to the customer. So that's taking time for them because they -- well, we offer them in terms of new news is more tailored to what they need and what we offer in terms of suggested order is very close to what they need.

They don't need to check inventory and do the whole thing. So lots of benefits that will come from BEES.

Edward Mundy -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Got it. Thank you. And, equally, many congratulations on all your achievements these past 32 years.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you so much, Ed.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Laurent Grandet of Guggenheim.

Laurent Grandet -- Guggenheim Securities -- Analyst

Hi, everyone, and congrats, Brito, for extraordinary career, building what ABI is today. So --

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Laurent.

Laurent Grandet -- Guggenheim Securities -- Analyst

Yes. So another kind of follow-up on BEES, if I may. It's more in terms of profitability, what I like to understand, I mean, how much incremental lead there is? I mean, it is right now to your distribution network, the way you see BEES expanding, is there any synergies leverage that you can get by getting BEES even bigger? So that's my first question. The second one is really more on the seltzer category.

You've been launching some spirit-based seltzer, I mean, the CACTI here in the U.S., I mean, Cutwater, I mean [Inaudible] these vodka-based. Do you think it's a good avenue to disrupt basically the two leading brands in the U.S. or elsewhere? So I'd like to understand a bit your view on spirit-based and seltzer.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, in terms of -- I think your first question was about BEES. Right?

Laurent Grandet -- Guggenheim Securities -- Analyst

Yes. Correct. Profitability.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. So, again, at this point, we're not really giving much numbers in terms of incremental revenue growth that's been generated for assortment or delta premiumization because these are all competitive sensitive. And we believe BEES is a big transformation initiative of our company. But we're seeing things like in seven of the 11 markets where BEES is today, more than 50% of our net revenue or sales is already there.

We're seeing that 25% of our global base of customers is already connected, and that's 60% above what it was December last year. So we're giving some data points there. And in terms of your other question, in terms of spirits-based, this is very much derived by country-specific consumer insights. In some countries depending on the competitive environment, depending on what people used to drink, we see more fit for more malt-based beverage or more distilled-based beverages.

So this is something that can be adapted. We see even here between Canada and the U.S., some beverages have different bases. This has to do with some local habits, and our belief that we'll be more successful if we take those into account.

Laurent Grandet -- Guggenheim Securities -- Analyst

Thanks, Brito, and I wish you well for whatever that comes next. Thanks. Bye.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you so much. Thank you very much.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Robert Ottenstein of Evercore.

Robert Ottenstein -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Great. Thank you very much. And, of course, congratulations, Lauren and Brito for great accomplishments and Brito for a phenomenal career and building an unbelievable company. We're kind of long in the call now.

So I was wondering maybe if you could reflect on your tenure as CEO, and the two or three things perhaps that you're most proud of in terms of your accomplishments, and it will really put the company in a very good position going forward. And maybe highlighting or accenting things that you don't think, maybe, fully appreciated by investors along those lines, but are very important to you.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Robert, for your nice words. And let me say that. I mean there are a couple of things. So first, our Dream-People-Culture platform.

We build a principled company, a company that has principles, Drink-People-Culture, in good times, bad times, COVID, pre-COVID, after COVID, we abide by those principles, and that's how we built the company. So I'm very proud of that. Second, my proudest moments in the company has been really to see our people develop, blossom and the business develop. Another one, Robert, has been the consumer centricity.

We always put consumers first, our customers first, quality of our products, doing the business the right way, no shortcuts. That's connected to the culture as well, but always having consumers in mind, and we grow when our consumers grow because that's where the business is. And I think the other thing is that we are very self-critical of ourselves. So some years ago, we saw that the world was going faster than we were going.

We created ZX. ZX is investing in ventures that proved the right ones in terms of B2B, B2C, in terms of craft, specialties. So Tadeu did an amazing job with the team. Ricardo Tadeu is now doing BEES and Pablo doing B2C.

So different people involved, but it was all started with ZX. And when I look at our transformation agenda, that tells me something about our culture. Sometimes, we're not perfect. Sometimes we're behind the curve.

But when we say we're going to do something, we do it. And we said we're going to start getting the transformation agenda accelerated, that's exactly what we're doing. And today, Robert, I will leave the company feeling that we're ahead of the curve. And that is -- we have momentum, bring and transform.

At times, we were doing one, but not the other. Now we feel we're ahead of the curve on both. And Michel is the right person to continue that drive. He is better than me in all respects, including having more hair than I do.

So I mean you see him physically. And we get along very well. He's widely respected in the company, 25 years, led the three most important markets we have, together with Mexico, of course, and Colombia and South Africa. And, yes, it's going to -- it's been a great ride and no regrets.

Robert Ottenstein -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Terrific. Thank you very much. Again, congratulations to everybody, and looking forward to seeing where Michel takes this company. Thank you.

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Robert. And, again, thank you, everybody. In summary, we remain focused on doing our part for the recovery through meaningful investments in local economies and by supporting the global vaccine rollout. Our business is off to a very strong start in 2021.

We'll deliver double-digit balanced top line and EBITDA growth even in the context of ongoing COVID-19-related restrictions. Our industry-leading portfolio brands is connecting us with more consumers in more occasions, as demonstrated by volumes ahead of 2019 levels. We're solving real customer and consumer needs with our digital platforms, connecting us more closely to those we serve worldwide. As the world overcomes COVID-19, our purpose of bringing people together for a better world is more relevant than ever.

Thank you for joining the call today, and thank you for your partnership over the last 32 years. We wish you all the best, stay safe and healthy. And thank you very much for your support and time. Have a great day.

Thank you.

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 45 minutes

Call participants:

Carlos Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Fernando Tennenbaum -- Chief Financial Officer

Trevor Stirling -- Sanford C. Bernstein -- Analyst

Pinar Ergun -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Olivier Nicolai -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Simon Hales -- Citi -- Analyst

Sanjeet Aujla -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Laurence Whyatt -- Barclays -- Analyst

Mitch Collett -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Edward Mundy -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Laurent Grandet -- Guggenheim Securities -- Analyst

Robert Ottenstein -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

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