Japan's top five brewers have seen mainstream beer sales fall below 50% of the market for the first time ever, according to local reports.

Beer shipments, which also include low-malt "happoshu" beers, accounted for 48.2% of the market in April, a Kyodo News report said today (16 May), quoting figures from the Brewers Association of Japan.

Sales of so-called "third-category" beer - those containing no malt - surged by almost 40% last month to take 28.7% of the entire Japanese beer market. Consumption of "third-category" beer rose in anticipation of a tax hike on the segment. The Japanese government increased duty on "third-category" beers on May 1.

In all, the overall beer market saw sales fall 5.5% in April to 44.2m cases, the report said.

The Brewers Association of Japan is made up of Kirin Brewery, Asahi Breweries, Sapporo Breweries, Suntory and Orion Breweries.