Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer, increased profit by slightly more than expected as price hikes and premium lagers made up for sharply lower beer sales to US wholesalers. 

The company said its overall volumes declined by 1.2%, mainly due to a 6% fall in sales to wholesalers in the US.

This was because of a large ramp up in those sales a year earlier to build inventories ahead of union negotiations.

However, the company sold more of its higher priced global brands, including a 6.2% rise in volumes of Budweiser, which sells more outside than inside the US, notably in Brazil and China. 

First-quarter core profit (EBITDA) rose by 11.1% on a like-for-like basis to $3.97 billion. That compared with the $3.93 billion average forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts. 

The company said the profit and margin improvement was mainly driven by strong revenues. 

The brewer of Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois, said it expected industry volumes in the US to improve this year compared with last, when sales to retailers dipped by 0.6%. 

In Brazil, AB InBev said that the growth of premium higher-priced lagers should help it to grow revenues by a mid- to high single digit percentage. 

In Mexico, the world's fourth largest market in terms of profit generation, a healthy economy should lead to volume growth this year, the company said.

It added that in China, industry volumes should return to growth in 2015 after a year hit by bad weather and an economic slowdown.