Shipments of happoshu, the low malt alternative to beer being aggressively marketed by Japan's major brewers, fell in June for the first time since May 1995.

Japan's five largest brewers said happoshu shipments fell by 0.5% compared with a year earlier. The fall was attributed to cold and wet weather as well as the fact that the comparable figures for a year earlier were particularly strong.

With all the brewers aggressively discounting to corner more of the happoshu market, analysts were concerned by the slip in shipments. "These numbers are a little worrying because they're cutting prices, and shipment volumes still fell," one analyst said.

The five major brewers also reported that shipments of regular beer fell in June, down by 23.2% which pulled the half-year shipments down by 13.9% compared with the previous half-year.

Surprisingly, domestic beer brands saw no boost from the World Cup, the Brewers association said, but imported brands did show an 8% lift in June which was attributed to the large numbers of foreign football fans visiting Japan for the tournament.

Combined shipments of beer and happoshu fell by 15.2% to 747,202 kilolitres (kl) in June compared with the year before, while half-year shipments fell by 4.6% to 3,286,166 kls. Happoshu is taxed at half the rate of normal beer due to its low malt content and, following rapid growth, represented 38.9% of total beer/happoshu shipments in the first six months of 2002, compared with 32.2% last year.