Leading Japanese brewer, Asahi Breweries, has forecast a recovery in sales for the coming year, on the back of new launches. However, Asahi said price rises forced by the tax hike on happoshu low-malt beer, to be levied from May, will dampen demand.

The brewer is forecasting a 4.1% rise in domestic sales of beer and happoshu to 218m cases from 2002 when sales fell by 3.6%.

The first of the two new Asahi brands to hit the market will be "Minorizanmai" which is to be introduced later in January and is expected to contribute 5m cases to total volumes. Asahi will also be launching a new happoshu brand called "Sparks" in February which is forecast to sell around 10m cases a year.

However, Asahi said it would be forced to raise prices in May when the government increases the tax on happoshu. The strong growth in happoshu over the past few years has been founded on the tax differential and consequent lower price of the beverages.

"It will probably have a bad effect on sales," said Asahi Breweries president, Koichi Ikeda. "Consumer prices are going to go up and that is not a good thing."