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Business deals

Kirin dips toes into tech investment as beer market slumps

Developers of cooking robots and sleep app win brewer's backing

A cooking robot developed by Connected Robotics, a startup backed by Kirin. (Photo by Kenjiro Suzuki)

TOKYO -- Japanese brewer Kirin Holdings has made a string of investments in domestic startups in hopes of developing new business tie-ins beyond the shrinking alcohol market.

The maker of Kirin Ichiban beer has in recent weeks bought into Load&Road, which sells smart water bottles that regulate temperature; O:Inc., a provider of a sleep wellness app, and Connected Robotics, a developer of cooking robots

All three are young Tokyo-area companies that have yet to break above 100 million yen ($900,000) in annual revenue. Kirin's individual stakes amount to less than 10%, and add up to roughly 50 million yen.

Japan's beverage market faces receding long-term demand as the population ages and declines. Meanwhile, consolidation and acquisitions by the world's biggest brewers have left fewer beer companies for Kirin -- whose net profit fell by half for the first half of this year -- to buy.

That prompted Japan's largest listed beverage group by sales to look beyond food and drink to areas like tech that hold the promise of synergies with its existing businesses.

Kirin will weigh opportunities to use its sales networks to market the startups' goods and services to restaurants. Further investment is a possibility if the partnerships work out.

Kirin is also building up its health business, which includes pharmaceuticals and biochemicals. It plans to invest several billion yen in U.S. supplement maker Thorne Research in a deal with Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co. slated to close in October.

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