Japanese beer shipments fell for the third consecutive time in the first half of this year, according to figures released last week. Shipments of beer and happoshu fell by 6.4% year-on-year in the January to June period, according to beer shipment data from the nation's top five brewers. The fall was credited to a fall in sales of happoshu following price rises and a shift in demand towards other low-priced alcoholic beverages.

Shipments of regular beer fell by 3.4% to 135.98 m cases for the six-month period. The pace of decline fell, however, after three years of double-digit decreases. Demand for beer in bars and restaurants grew in the first half, due mainly to the steady economic recovery in Japan.

A recent heat wave in the country compared to an unusually cool summer last year has given beer makers cause for a more positive outlook. The average temperature in central Tokyo from 1 July to 10 July was up by about five degrees on the year, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Shipments of happoshu products slipped by 10.7% year-on-year in the six months to 88.32 m cases, as some consumers shifted from happoshu to other low-priced alcoholic beverage products. Sapporo Holdings Ltd.'s low-price beer-taste alcoholic beverage "Draft One," launched nationwide on 4 February, has enjoyed such good sales that the company has revised its annual sales target upwards twice already.

Asahi Breweries Ltd.'s beer shipments fell by 0.6% in the January to June period to 93.46 m cases. Asahi blamed the relatively small decline on its introduction of two new "happoshu" products - "Aqua Blue" in July 2003 and "Off Time" in March this year. Asahi's market share for the period stood at 41.7%, up from 39.3% a year ago.

Kirin Brewery Co. said its beer shipments dropped by 6.6% to 80.02 m cases in the first half, while its market share slipped slightly to 35.7% from 35.8%.

Sapporo's beer shipments fell by 16.6% to 26.64 m cases in the same period, giving it a market share of 11.9%, down from 13.3%. But with the inclusion of "Draft One," Sapporo's shipments grew 8.8% year-on-year to 34.76 m cases.

Suntory Ltd.'s beer shipments slipped by 14.6% to 22.25 m cases in the half, giving it a market share of 9.9%, down from 10.9%.

Orion Beer Co., a brewery based in Okinawa Prefecture, southern Japan, registered a 3.6% rise in shipments to 1.94 m cases.