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Japan’s market for beer and “happoshu,” the low-malt drink that is similar to beer, increased 2.9 percent in May from the previous year, thanks to good sales of the latter, according to data released Tuesday by the country’s five major brewers.

Combined shipments of beer and happoshu came to 609,096 kiloliters, according to Asahi Breweries Ltd., Kirin Brewery Co., Sapporo Breweries Ltd., Suntory Ltd. and Orion Breweries Ltd.

The figure signifies the fourth straight month of a year-on-year rise.

Shipments of low-priced happoshu alone rocketed 46.2 percent to 208,853 kiloliters, contrasting sharply with the 10.9 percent fall in beer shipments.

Happoshu sales extended their year-on-year winning streak to a 60th straight month in May, while those of beer dropped for the 14th month in a row.

Brewers of happoshu have scrambled to release a range of new products to cash in on the popularity of the sparkling beerlike beverage. Sales have grown yearly since its introduction in 1994.

Happoshu tastes similar to beer but is cheaper. This is because its 350-ml canned happoshu is subject to a 25.3 percent tax rate, compared with 35.6 percent for corresponding beer products.

Happoshu appears to have clinched a 34 percent share of Japan’s total beer and happoshu market, according to the Association of Happoshu Makers, a grouping of Kirin, Orion, Sapporo and Suntory.

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