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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 07:59 GMT
Japan keeps drinking as economy slides
Asahi beer
The beer of choice in Japan
Japan's economy may be on the skids, but the country's taste for beer is certainly not.

According to the latest figures, shipments of beer in December were up 6.1% on the year before.

The increase is largely thanks to the wildfire demand for happoshu, or "low-malt" beer, a cheaper option than the traditional variety.

For 2001 as a whole, happoshu shipments for the domestic market grew 42.2% to 2.3 billion litres, extending a steady trend of growth ever since its introduction by Sapporo in 1994.

But real beer drinking is on the decline, falling 11.6% year on year to 4.9 billion litres.

The change in drinking habits has triggered interest from the government.

Happoshu is taxed at a lower rate than normal beer - one contributing factor in the price differential, and an anomaly the Finance Ministry was keen to remove.

The soaring demand, it reasoned, made it a prime target for tax rises to help prop up an exchequer sagging under a huge public debt and a slumping tax take.

But the brewers fought off the ministry's plans, pointing out that the drinks industry stood every chance of joining the rest of Japan's economy in the doldrums should the tax rises be realised.

Switch at the top

The continuing demand for happoshu has also catalysed a change in the pecking order of Japanese brands.

For 48 years, the many brands of the Kirin Brewery has been the nation's favourite.

But in 2001, the Brewers' Association of Japan said, Asahi took over the top spot, grabbing 38.7% of the domestic market against Kirin's 35.8%.

Asahi was slow to join the happoshu trend, only introducing its own "Honnama" (genuine draft) brand in February 2001.

See also:

24 Dec 01 | Business
Carling sold to US brewer
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