Asahi Breweries & Kirin Brewery fight for No. 1 spot

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Beer

Figures released on July 11 showed that Kirin Brewery and Asahi
Breweries, the two largest Japanese brewing companies, were
neck-and-neck in beer market share for the first half of the year.

Figures released on July 11 showed that Kirin Brewery and Asahi Breweries, the two largest Japanese brewing companies, were neck-and-neck in beer market share for the first half of the year. Kirin, which has been top for decades, was just ahead with 37.6 per cent of the market, against Asahi's 37.5 per cent, according to the Brewers' Association of Japan. The summer months will be important in determining which company emerges as this year's market leader. Kirin's position as Japan's top brewer has been gradually eroded since 1987, when Asahi​ introduced its "Asahi Super Dry"​ brand. This became the beer chosen by younger drinkers, to distinguish themselves from older "Kirin Lager"​ fans, and worked its way up to number one position for an individual beer several years ago. But Kirin's stable of old favourites, including "Ichiban Shibori"​ and "Kirin Lager"​, kept the company's overall market share higher than Asahi's. Three years ago, Kirin​ launched a brand of "happoshu"​, a "low malt alcoholic beverage"​ almost identical to beer, but taxed, by an anomaly of Japanese law, at a much lower rate than standard beer. The loophole was already being exploited by Suntory and Sapporo, two other Japanese brewers. Happoshu has grabbed a big chunk of the beer market, reaching nearly a third during the first half of 2001. Kirin rode the happoshu wave, and stayed on top of Asahi. However, in February 2001, Asahi launched its own happoshu, "Honnama​, with a large marketing campaign, which was so successful that at one stage supplies ran dry. Asahi had held back from launching a happoshu for fear of dipping into sales of "Super Dry"​, but as the happoshu market continued to expand at the expense of beer, it could not be left behind. As expected, some consumers have switched from "Super Dry"​ to "Honnama"​, but more appear to have switched from other brands. In June, beer shipments by all brewers fell 3.1 per cent from a year earlier, but happoshu shipments were up 44 per cent. This year, Asahi will be going all-out to be the number one beer maker. However, the launch of a new brand is expensive, and for demographic and other reasons the overall Japanese beer and alcoholic drink market is shrinking, so brewers may find themselves spending ever more on marketing just to keep sales steady. Recent government suggestions that the tax advantage of happoshu should be wiped out were quashed after protests from the brewing industry. But they probably cannot stave off the closing of the loophole forever. By the time it goes, some people may have developed a taste preference for happoshu, but for others, the loss of the price advantage may push them back to traditional beer - throwing the market wide open again. This year's unusually hot and dry rainy season may already have boosted beer sales, and the best news for all the brewers would be if it carried on for a long, thirsty summer. They will just be hoping that no sudden change in the tax system dilutes the flourishing happoshu market

Related topics: Market Trends

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