Japanese beer and happoshu shipments fell in 2004 for the third consecutive year, according to recent figures. The "third beer" category saved the country's main brewers, however.

Shipment data from the country's major brewers, released today (17 January), shows that regular beer and low-malt happoshu shipments fell by 4.2% last year, as demand shifted towards low-priced alcoholic beverages.

Regular beer shipments fell for the eighth consecutive year, by 1.6%, while happoshu slid by 8.1%, mainly due to a shift in demand to the beer-flavoured beverage, or "third beer, sector. Including shipments of "third beer," however, overall shipments rose slightly by 0.7% year-on-year.

Asahi maintained its top market share in beer and happoshu with 41.7% share last year, a rise from 39.9% in 2003. Kirin Brewery was second, with its share rising to 36.2% from 35.7%. Sapporo Holdings' market share dropped to 11.8% in 2004 from 13.1% the year before.  Suntory Ltd.saw its market share drop to 9.4% from 10.4%.

Asahi and Kirin have already said that they will both start selling low-priced beer-flavoured beverage products later this year, in a bid to match the success of drinks offered by Sapporo and Suntory.