“Happoshu,” a low-malt beverage, grabbed a 46.4 percent share of the beer market in February, its largest share ever, according to data released Wednesday by the nation’s five major brewers.

The figure also represents an increase of 43.5 percent from a year earlier, according to the data.

Total shipments of beer and happoshu fell 6.4 percent to 406,953 kiloliters, down for the six consecutive month, according to Asahi Breweries Ltd., Kirin Brewery Co., Sapporo Breweries Ltd., Suntory Ltd. and Orion Breweries Ltd.

Happoshu shipments fell 0.1 percent to 188,827 kiloliters, down for the first time in eight months. The decline was partly attributed to the discount campaigns conducted by Asahi and Suntory in February 2002. These campaigns boosted sales of happoshu in the month.

But happoshu still claimed a bigger share of the market, with beer shipments falling 11.2 percent to 218,126 kiloliters, down for the 35th straight month.

Kirin said its happoshu shipments rose above last year’s levels, while Suntory, Asahi and Sapporo said they saw a decline in shipments.

“Increases in (shipments of) happoshu are seeing a slowdown, and we will compete with alcoholic beverages on the whole, including ‘shochu’-based drinks,” a Kirin official said.

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