Consumption of beer and beer-like beverages in Japan recorded an all-time low in 2010. The Asahi Shimbun (Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011, p.23) reported that the four major Japanese brewers shipped the fewest cases since statistical record keeping began in 1992. Last year, shipments declined 2.8% from 2009, down for the sixth year in a row.
Regular beer sales dropped to 50.2% of the total market, also a record low, while low-malt "happoshu" sank to 17%. Third-category beer, which contain no malt, rose to 32.8%.
Breweries claim that the declines are due to the rising popularity of cheaper imported third-category beer as well as increased sales of non-alcohol beer and canned cocktails.
Anyone visiting a liquor store in Japan will see case upon case of happoshu and third-category beer being toted out by by price-conscious customers. The price differential between these types and all-malt beer is considerable.
Here is the breakdown of the four majors' market shares for 2010:
37.5% Asahi Breweries Ltd.
36.7% Kirin Brewery Co.
12.9% Suntory Ltd.
12% Sapporo Breweries Ltd.
These figures add up to 99.1, leading me to wonder whether the total market share for microbrews in Japan is less than one percent. I once talked with Bryan Baird about the wisdom of expanding his business, and he claimed that the market for craft beer is there, ripe for the taking. Yet, if Japanese drinkers are becoming habituated to the raw, rasty taste and the low cost of happoshu, etc,, will they ever feel like spending more on higher-quality, tasty craft beer?