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The nation’s beer market grew 3.9 percent in April from the previous year, helped by the popularity of low-malt “happoshu” drinks, according to data released Tuesday by the country’s five major brewers.

Combined shipments of beer and happoshu came to 597,942 kiloliters, according to Asahi Breweries Ltd., Kirin Brewery Co., Sapporo Breweries Ltd., Suntory Ltd. and Orion Breweries Ltd.

Shipments of low-priced happoshu rose 43.2 percent from a year earlier compared with a 7.8 percent decline in beer shipments.

Nonetheless, beer sales were an improvement on the double-digit declines seen in the preceding two months, partly thanks to fine weather during April and the consequent high levels of beer consumption during traditional cherry blossom-viewing parties and other outdoor events.

Beer companies are set to step up competition on happoshu in the coming months, producing limited summertime drinks.

Happoshu tastes similar to beer but is priced lower because it is not taxed as beer under liquor taxation rules. Happoshu sales have grown yearly since its inception in 1994.

Asahi Breweries, the only company to release its own shipment figures, said combined shipments of its beer and happoshu rose 11.1 percent, and it had a 37.6 percent share of the Japanese market during the month.

Kirin Brewery said its combined sales fell by a one-digit figure amid weak demand for beer.

Sapporo Breweries said its combined sales rose by around 10 percent on firm demand for its Nama-shibori happoshu launched in March.

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