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Kirin tops Japan's beer sales in 2020 for 1st time in 11 years

Kirin Beer 'Ichiban Shibori' . (Maianichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Kirin Holdings Co. is estimated to have ranked top in sales of beer and beer-like drinks last year, overtaking Asahi Group Holdings Ltd. for the first time in 11 years, sales data released by major Japanese brewers showed Friday.

    But sales of all four major brewers -- Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo Holdings Ltd. and Suntory Holdings Ltd. -- dropped for the 16th straight year, due to weak demand in restaurants and bars amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

    The government reduced the liquor tax on beer in October, but weak demand in the restaurant industry due to the pandemic forced the brewers to log a decline in sales of beer and low-priced "third category beer," made from malt alternatives or a mixture of spirits.

    The beer market in Japan contracted about 9 percent in 2020, with third-category beer sales overtaking those of beer for the first time apparently due to those products' lower prices and higher demand for consumption at home.

    By volume shipped in the market last year, Kirin was down 4.5 percent, Sapporo decreased 8 percent and Suntory dropped 11 percent.

    Sales of Asahi fell 15.7 percent by value, but the company declined to unveil its shipment volume.

    In 2021, the Japanese brewers plan to introduce new "real beer" products to boost sales following the tax cut last year.

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