Asahi Breweries has posted a strong rise in profits for 2004, despite only a slight rise in sales. The company also forecast a 50% increase in profits for 2005.

Asahi today (14 February) said that net profit in 2004 rose by 31.8% to JPY30.6bn (US$291.4m) as cost cuts and favourable summer weather spurred consumption of its beer and soft drinks. Sales for the year increased by only 3.1, however, with its beer and happoshu sales remaining flat for the 12-month period.

The company said it expected a group net profit of JPY46bn for the current year to December on sales of JPY1.53 trillion.

"Our sales grew little as you can see, but we were able to produce a solid profit rise because we have improved our earnings structure through cost cuts," said Asahi's senior managing director, Yoshihiro Goto.

Asahi also unveiled plans to introduce a new beverage to the "third-type" beer category. The company will introduce "Shinnama" in April this year, and expects the entire sector to rise by 84% in 2005.

With the new drink, Asahi expects its sales of beer-related products - beer, happoshu, and beverages in the new category - to increase by 2.9% in 2005.

Separately, Asahi also said yesterday that it is considering a joint bid with South Korea's Lotte Group for liquor maker Jinro Co.