Asahi taps subsidiary head in bid to keep suds on top

Asahi Breweries Ltd. said Friday it had named Hitoshi Ogita, president of Asahi Soft Drinks Co., to replace President Koichi Ikeda, as the country’s top brewer faces growing pressure from rival Kirin Brewery Co.

Ikeda, 65, president of Asahi Breweries since 2002, will become chairman and CEO, overseeing group management, including overseas operations. The reshuffle will be made official after a shareholders’ meeting in March.

The Asahi announcement follows a shakeup at Kirin last month. Kazuyasu Kato, who is slated to become Kirin’s president in March, has vowed to overtake Asahi as Japan’s top brewery.

Although Ogita, 64, spent most of his carrier at Asahi Breweries before joining Asahi Soft Drinks, it is unusual for the brewer to call upon someone from one of its group companies to fill the top post.

Ikeda said he took an extraordinary step in choosing his successor, stressing the move is part of the group-oriented management he seeks.

Ogita is credited with turning around struggling Asahi Soft Drinks and is now tasked with maintaining Asahi’s top position in the domestic beer market, which it seized from arch rival Kirin in 2001.

Although Asahi rose to the top on the phenomenal success of its Super Dry beer, there’s concern about the company heavily depending on a single product. Kirin, on the other hand, has been regaining lost ground by launching several popular beers.

Nevertheless, Ikeda said the brewer will stick to its guns. “Our biggest weapon is Super Dry. We are trying to further boost its brand value,” he said.

Shipments rise 7.8%

Shipments of beer and beerlike alcoholic beverages by Japan’s top five brewers rose 7.8 percent in January from a year earlier, the first increase in three months as so-called third-category beer enjoyed sharp growth, industry figures showed Friday.

Kirin Brewery Co. regained the position as holder of the biggest market share, beating Asahi Breweries Ltd. by a small margin.

Asahi captured a 37.7 percent share of the overall beer market through a 12.8 percent increase in shipments to 8.74 million cases.

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