Industry leader Asahi Breweries Ltd. reported Friday a record net profit for 2003, buoyed by strong sales of a newly introduced “happoshu” beerlike beverage.

The country’s largest brewer in terms of market share said its net profit for 2003 rose 57 percent to 23.21 billion yen for the third consecutive year of record earnings. Sales rose 1.8 percent to 1.4 trillion yen.

The brisk performance came despite a tax increase on cheaper happoshu low-malt beverages and an unseasonably cold summer.

The maker of Super Dry beer and Honnama happoshu said robust sales of Aqua Blue, introduced in July, helped the company post the impressive results.

Asahi Executive Vice President Sugao Nishikawa said the sales growth of other alcohol beverages also contributed to its stout year.

A return to the black by Asahi Soft Drinks Co., the company’s nonalcohol beverage unit, gave a further boost to earnings, the company said. The brewer has projected record earnings for the current year.

Rivals were not so lucky, however.

The combined shipments of beer and happoshu by Japan’s five major breweries fell 6.3 percent in 2003, the second-largest percentage decline in the postwar period. The happoshu market shrank for the first time since it was released in 1994.

Sapporo Holdings Ltd. said sales for 2003 slipped 6.3 percent to 479.52 billion yen, and the sales volume of beer and happoshu fell 12 percent from the previous year.

The maker of Yebisu premium beer said its new happoshu products launched last year flopped in the severe market environment.

The company’s net profit more than doubled to 2.41 billion yen, largely helped by its real estate business, whose properties include Yebisu Garden Place in Tokyo.

Kirin Brewery Co., the largest brewery in terms of sales, said Thursday its net profit edged down 0.4 percent to 32.4 billion yen on revenue of 1.6 trillion yen, up 0.9 percent.

The maker of Kirin Lager and Tanrei happoshu said beer and happoshu sales dropped 5.2 percent in 2003.

But it said growth in nonalcohol beverages and a pharmaceutical business helped it to eke out a sales increase even as sales from its mainstay alcohol business, which account for 65 percent of total revenue, slid 2.3 percent.

Despite weak revenue growth, the company delivered an operating profit increase of 13 percent to a record 101.56 billion yen, largely thanks to cost-cutting efforts, especially in marketing expenses for beer and happoshu.

Operating profit is the measure of profitability in a company’s regular business activities, not including such financial transactions as interest payments.

Kirin’s net profit edged down due to one-time losses related to property transactions.

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