SABMiller plc, London, and Molson Coors Brewing Co., Denver, reported that its joint venture MillerCoors’ first quarter underlying net income increased 16.6 percent to $175.3 million and total net sales increased 3.6 percent to $1.76 billion compared to the first quarter of 2011. The companies attributed the performance to positive pricing growth, cost management and favorable mix.

“We delivered a solid first quarter in 2012,” MillerCoors Chief Executive Officer Tom Long said in a statement. “Our sales trends improved, and we saw net revenue growth that was primarily driven by strong mix, positive pricing and unseasonably warm weather, particularly around St. Patrick’s Day. We also laid the ground work with the re-positioning of some of our top brands, such as Miller Lite and Miller64, and continued to deliver strong growth from Tenth and Blake, particularly from Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. We are encouraged by our trend improvements, and we have the right strategy, programs and people in place to continue growing our brand strength and earning customer preference.”

For the quarter, MillerCoors’ domestic sales-to-retailers (STRs) decreased 1.6 percent, which is an improvement from the previous three quarters, the company noted. Some of the performance was aided by unseasonably warm weather in the month of March across much of the country, particularly in the company’s core markets such as the Midwest and Northeast, the company said. Domestic sales to wholesalers (STWs) decreased 0.9 percent, and distributor inventory levels were lower at the end of the quarter than a year ago, MillerCoors noted.

Within its portfolio, premium light STRs declined low-single digits in the first quarter, according to the company. Although it launched new advertising and “It’s Miller Time”- themed brand positioning in mid-March, Miller Lite was down low-single digits, the company said. Miller64 volumes were lower than MGD64 volumes in the prior year, but its new Miller64 brand positioning was introduced in early March with new advertising and packaging, which the company noted “is off to a great start.”

Coors Light grew low-single digits and kicked off two multicultural programs in the quarter, including activation around its sponsorship of Mexico’s First Division Soccer League and the Ice Cold Leader program, which rewards African-American community leadership.

Tenth and Blake Beer Co. continued to grow MillerCoors craft and import portfolio by double digits in the quarter, which was driven by increases in Leinenkugel’s and Blue Moon brands, it reported. The company introduced Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy a month earlier this year, and experienced more than doubled volumes, MillerCoors said. Import brand Peroni Nastro Azzurro also grew high-single digits and continued to show strong growth in the on-premise market. The integration of The Crispin Cider Co. and its affiliate Fox Barrel Cider Co. is progressing well, resulting in a significant increase in cider production since the acquisition, according to the company.

MillerCoors’ below-premium portfolio declined low-single digits as the company maintained appropriate price gaps between premium and below-premium beers, it said. Its premium regular portfolio also was down mid-single digits with a double-digit decline by Miller Genuine Draft partly offset by low-single-digit growth of Coors Banquet, according to the company.

Contributing to the increase in net income, domestic net producer revenue per barrel grew 3.9 percent, which was the highest quarterly increase in three years, the company said. MillerCoors attributed the growth to management of pricing and promotions and accelerated mix gains. In addition, total cost of goods sold per barrel increased 0.9 percent for the quarter driven by packaging innovation, higher freight, brand premiumization and brewing material costs, which was partially offset by tight cost control and savings initiatives, according to MillerCoors. In the first quarter, $25 million of cost savings were realized, driven by various initiatives primarily within the integrated supply chain, the company noted.

Molson Coors Brewing Co. also reported its first quarter earnings with 0.1 percent higher net sales and a 4.5 percent increase in underlying after-tax income in the time period, which was driven by positive beer pricing and sales mix across the company, it noted. The company’s net income from continuing operations decreased nearly 4 percent primarily due to $6.1 million in expenses related to its acquisition of central European brewer StarBev, which the company excluded from underlying results, it said.

Molson Coors Brewing Co. also named Mark Hunter chief executive officer of its StarBev business unit. Hunter currently serves as chief executive officer of the company’s U.K. and Ireland businesses and previously worked as chief commercial officer for Molson Coors Canada.