TOKYO: Kirin, the Japanese brewing giant, regained the top spot in the country's beer market during the first nine months of this year, largely as a result of changing consumption habits among drinkers.

While Kirin actually saw its volume shipments fall by 0.1% in the period from January to September, to 130.74 million cases, it out-performed the sector as a whole, which registered a decline of 2.4%.

The company now boasts a market share of 37.9%, and has thus leapfrogged its main rival, Asahi, which recorded a slide in shipments of 3%, to 128.77 million cases, over the same period, taking it to a market share of 37.3%.

Suntory followed in third, with 12.4%, while Sapporo Holdings recorded a comparative figure of 11.5% in the first three quarters of 2009.

One of the main contributors to Kirin's success was the 22% uptick in shipments of low-cost "third category" beers recorded in the Asian nation, as consumers traded down to cheaper brands.

These products cost less than other beers because they are made from soya rather than malt, and are therefore subject to lower levels of taxation.

Kirin has a stronger presence in this segment than Asahi, with Nodogoshi Nama, which it launched in 2004, one of the biggest-selling offerings in this category.

Sales of Kirin Ichiban also grew by 0.5% for the year to September – the first such improvement for half a decade – following a campaign by the company to reposition the brand.

Many Japanese firms have been focusing their efforts on improving their positions abroad in recent times, as an ageing population and poor economic outlook hinder the domestic market.

This trend looks particularly likely to have an impact on the beer market, and Kirin has therefore also been active in making acquisitions this year.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff