Japan's brewers have shifted their focus away from beer to become broad beverage alcohol producers, the president of Sapporo Breweries has said.

Sapporo president Masaru Fukunaga pointed to last week's move by Kirin Brewery to buy a majority stake in local wine group Mercian Corp. as evidence that the country's brewers are diversifying away from a stagnant Japanese beer market.

In an interview with Japanese news agency Jiji Press today (20 November), Fukunaga said the moves by the country's brewers into the wine and spirit categories were different from past M&A deals, which had tended to only involve brewers.

Fukunaga told the agency that, while Sapporo was open to further acquisitions, the company was focusing on growing its two recent purchases - local spirits group Kikkoman Corp. and Canadian brewer Sleeman Breweries.

Sapporo has found the going tough domestically. In August, the brewer posted a net loss of JPY3.9bn (US$33m) for the six months to the end of June. The result compared to a loss of JPY5.2bn last year. However, the brewer saw sales fall 4% to JPY200.1bn.

Looking at Japan's beer industry as a whole, between July and September, domestic beer shipments fell to their lowest levels since comparable figures became available in 1992.

Figures from the country's five leading brewers showed domestic beer shipments in the period fell 3.2% from a year earlier to 137.6m cases.