Sapporo Breweries, the last of Japan's big four brewers to report its 2001 figures, said today it had posted a 0.7% rise in sales of beer and low-malt "happoshu". It also said that sales were forecast to extend to a 2% rise in 2002.

Sapporo's figures mean it maintains its position as the country's third largest brewer with an estimated 15% share of the market. Although the company still trails leaders Kirin and Asahi, the results did constitute the first rise in market share for the company in five years.

Official figures for the brewing sector in Japan are expected to be released in the next few weeks.

With competition toughening in the Japanese market, many are predicting a price war between the main brewers. The prospect was made all the more real this week when Kirin introduced a discount-priced happoshu.

But talking at a news conference Sapporo president Tatsushi Iwana said the company was not interested in a price war.

"Just because a new, cheaper product has been introduced, does that mean we will all have to lower our prices? I don't see that happening. But if there is a big shift in the industry, I suppose we will have to adjust accordingly," he said.