December 12, 2013 / 10:21 AM / 4 years ago

Asahi to tap Japan's premium beer boom with upmarket Super Dry

TOKYO, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Asahi Group Holdings Ltd will launch a premium version of its Super Dry beer in Japan as a pickup in the economy has drinkers indulging more in upmarket brews even while overall beer consumption is at its lowest in more than two decades.

Beer sales have been hit hard by the rise of ready-to-drink cocktails and other alcoholic beverages, as well as an ageing population. Premium beers have defied the trend, however, with rising sales volumes last year that accelerated this year.

Asahi's Dry Premium will launch in Japan next February at a suggested retail price about 15 percent higher than its flagship Super Dry, Japan's best-selling beer. It will initially be available only in the domestic market.

"With 'Abenomics' we have some bright signs in the economic outlook and this is spurring growth in the premium beer market," said Tsuyoshi Morita, Asahi's head of marketing.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy mix of fiscal and monetary stimulus has helped fuel a rise in share prices and luxury spending over the past year, while encouraging mass retailers to promote high-end consumer goods such as cashmere sweaters and gourmet coffee.

Rival brewer Suntory Holdings Ltd on Thursday raised its full-year estimate for growth in the premium beer market to 7 percent from a 4 percent projection at the start of the year.

That is in sharp contrast with Japan's overall beer market, the world's seventh largest, which is expected to shrink for a ninth year in a row to its smallest in at least two decades. Japan's four major breweries are predicting a 1 to 2 percent drop in industry-wide sales this year.

Figures through the end of November for volume sales by Japan's four big brewers show that the two with premium brands - Suntory Premium Malt's and Sapporo Holdings Ltd's Yebisu - have posted year-on-year increases, while the other two, Asahi and Kirin Holdings Co Ltd, have seen declines.

Writing by Edmund Klamann; Editing by Matt Driskill

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