Overall shipments of beer and “happoshu” fell 3.1 percent in March from a year earlier, according to data released Wednesday by Japan’s five top brewers.

Shipments of beer and happoshu totaled 549,474 kiloliters, according to Asahi Breweries Ltd., Kirin Brewery Co., Sapporo Breweries Ltd., Suntory Ltd. and Orion Breweries Ltd.

The decline came after a 3.5 percent increase in February.

However, shipments of happoshu, a low-malt similar to beer in taste and appearance but cheaper due to lower liquor taxes, increased 22.7 percent in March to 216,275 kiloliters, marking the 70th consecutive month of increase.

Supported partly by active discount campaigns during the month, happoshu accounted for 39.4 percent of the total beer and happoshu market.

Shipments of beer, on the other hand, fell 14.7 percent to 333,199 kiloliters, marking the 24th consecutive month of decline.

Beer shipments were slow, affected by depressed consumer demand and strong demand for happoshu and other alcoholic drinks, according to the brewers.

Asahi, Japan’s largest beer brewer in terms of market share and the only one that releases statistics on its monthly sales, said its overall shipments of beer and happoshu increased 4.8 percent to 221,563 kiloliters, a record high for the month of March.

Asahi’s market share exceeded 40 percent for the first time during the January-March period, it added.

The four other brewers only release combined figures.

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