Asahi expects a flat year for its combined sales volume of beer and happoshu in 2004. The Japanese brewer said today that it hopes the introduction of a new happoshu brand will help it maintain strength in the sector.

Asahi, the top brewer in Japan, forecasts its sales of happoshu will climb by 17% to 63.5m cases this year. That should offset a 5.5% fall in regular beer sales to 141.5m cases to leave an overall gain of 0.5% to 205 million cases, it said.

In August 2003, the company cut its forecast for net profit for the business year to December to ¥21 billion (US$197.8m) from an earlier prediction of ¥26 billion. It has since reported nine-month profits of ¥21.29 billion, however.

The brewer declined to go into details on its new happoshu product, which will be launched in time for the summer season.

Asahi's annual results for 2003 will be announced in late February.