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It's the age-old question: is the glass half-full or half-empty? For Heineken, the world's second-largest brewer, the answer is currently both.

On Monday, Heineken — which churns out Amstel, Tiger, and Moretti in addition to its famed namesake lager — said its first-half sales grew by 14.1% to €10 billion. But, before anyone cracked a celebratory bottle, the company warned that lagging sales in Asia and rising commodity prices will be tough to swallow.

Still Ale-ing

Heineken's latest figures show revenues trailing more than 10% behind the first half of 2019. But that was back in the pre-pandemic status quo of bars packed stool-to-stool. Back in the present, the ongoing global recovery is exposing the Dutch brewer's business to both triumphs and tribulations:

  • In Europe, where Heineken sells a third of its beer volumes, bars and restaurants are open again. And while still off pre-crisis levels, profit on the continent was up 360% in the first six months of this year compared to 2020.
  • But many developing countries, which accounted for 54% of Heinekin's profits before the pandemic, are still in rough shape. Asian sales crept down 1% amid Delta variant outbreaks and low vaccination rates. And Heineken breweries are locked down in Malaysia and Vietnam, the region containing one of the company's three biggest markets.

Heineken has already taken tough measures during the pandemic. It slashed 8,000 jobs this year, helping the company scrape together a €1 billion profit in the first half, far improved from the €297 million loss in the first six months of 2020.

A Hard Business: Heineken expects the wave of global inflation to take a serious run at its margins. The costs of aluminum used in beer cans, barley, road transport, and ocean freight are all a "reason for caution" according to the company, which said its full-year financial results will likely remain weaker than pre-pandemic levels. At least Heineken didn't go all-in on hard seltzer like rival Boston Beer, whose shares plummeted 25% last week after conceding the trendy drink appears to be fizzling out.