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Asahi regains top spot in declining Japanese beer market

By Guy Montague-Jones , 18-Jan-2011
Last updated on 18-Jan-2011 at 15:47 GMT

Asahi Breweries reportedly regained the top spot in the Japanese beer market in 2010 as demand for beer in the country continues to fall.

According to data released by the leading five brewers in Japan, total shipments of beer and beer-like drinks dropped 2.8 per cent last year.

Shrinking beer market

It is the sixth year in a row that beer consumption in Japan has declined. The size of the market has been shrinking as tastes diversify, the population ages and the economy falters.

Even Asahi Breweries saw its shipments fall last year despite recapturing the first place position in the market from Kirin. Asahi now holds a 37.5 per cent share of the market with Kirin in second place at 36.7 per cent.

Both the two leading breweries lost ground to their smaller rivals over the course of the year.

Overall volumes at Asahi fell 3.6 per cent last year with only the low-malt brand Clear Asahi posting a significant increase in sales.

Behind the top two brewers, Suntory Liquors and Sapporo Breweries, which hold third and fourth place in the market, both experienced a sales boost in 2010, helped by the popularity of their premium brands.

The recent sales figures for Japan testify to the gradual erosion in the middle of the Japanese market. Both the cheaper, new-style beer drinks and the premium brands are holding up against the downward trend while regular beer is struggling.

Tax influences new product development

Canadean analyst Kevin Baker told BeverageDaily.com that the tax situation has a big influence on the beer industry in Japan.

Baker said: “The Japanese beer market is highly taxed and extremely price sensitive and therefore the leading brewers have sought ways of reducing their exposure to tax by developing new product types.”

Low malt beers or “Happoshu” formed the first wave of this trend but when taxes on these products were upped, brewers turned to non-malt beers that use other fermentable starches such as soya beans and pea pods.

Baker said these “New Genre” products, together with non-alcohol beers and imports (dominated by Happoshu and New Genre beers from Korea) were the only segments of the market to experience growth in 2009.