Beer-making giant

Anheuser-Busch Companies

(BUD) - Get Report

said Wednesday that first-quarter operating profit rose 8.5%, helped by improving margins as the company sold higher volumes of beer even as it raised prices for many brands.

The St. Louis-based company reported its net operating income, excluding one-time charges, increased 8.5% to $582 million from $536 million a year earlier. Earnings per share for the quarter rose 15.2% to 76 cents a diluted share from 66 cents -- the company's sixth-consecutive quarter of double digit earnings-per-share growth.

The results beat estimates from

First Call/Thomson Financial

, which had forecast Anheuser-Busch's earnings at 74 cents a share.

The company said the results reflected a 2.1% increase in the volume of beer sales, and a 2.1% increase in revenue per unit of beer sold. The growth was led by sales of the company's flagship

Budweiser

and

Bud Light

brands, which increased by about 5% per day on a leap year-adjusted basis.

Anheuser-Busch controls 49% of the domestic beer market, largely through its major brands Budweiser, Bud Light,

Michelob

and

Busch

. The company also makes and markets beer through joint ventures and licensing agreements in China, Japan, Mexico, several South American countries, and throughout Europe.

Total sales were up 4.5% to $3.3 billion, compared to $3.16 billion a year earlier. International beer sales accounted for $128.4 million and domestic sales accounted for $2.77 billion. The company's entertainment revenue, derived from attractions such as its

Busch Gardens

,

SeaWorld

,

Adventure Island

, and

Discovery Cove Park

sites, accounted for $110.7 million.