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Kirin looks to AB InBev to lift US sales of flagship beer

Ichiban will take its place beside other priority brands in AB InBev's import lineup, such as Stella Artois and Hoegaarden.

TOKYO -- Kirin Holdings will deepen an American sales partnership with Anheuser-Busch InBev, tapping into the larger beverage group's distributor network in hopes of gaining more market share for its Kirin Ichiban brew.

Tokyo-based Kirin aims to double its beer sales volume in the U.S. by 2021.

Kirin works with the world's biggest beer company in Japan and abroad. In Japan, AB InBev licenses Kirin to brew and sell such beers as Budweiser. In the U.S., it produces and sells Ichiban for its Japanese partner.

With their U.S. licensing agreement up for renewal at year-end, the two companies are planning changes. Employees of Kirin Brewery of America will be transferred to AB InBev under the new arrangement. There, they will form a special marketing team for Ichiban.

Ichiban will take its place alongside other priority brands in AB InBev's import lineup, such as Stella Artois and Hoegaarden. Until now, the brew with the mythical Chinese beast on its label -- sold as Ichiban Shibori in Japan -- has gotten lost among the 300-plus beer brands that AB InBev imports into the U.S.

In return, AB InBev will get a bigger cut than before of earnings on each beer sold. Kirin is willing to take a smaller share in exchange for what it hopes will be greater sales overall.

The Japanese brewer's annual overseas sales of Kirin brand beers come to the equivalent of 5.34 million cases. (One case equals 20 633ml bottles.) The U.S. is thought to account for 1 million cases of this amount. Kirin's share of the world's second-largest beer market remains small. But the brewer is making an effort there, as well as in such emerging markets as Myanmar, to try to offset the slowing growth in Japan.

As Americans develop a taste for craft beers and imports -- the two now make up more than 10% of the local beer market -- such traditional mass-market brews as AB InBev's Budweiser are looking tired. Kirin's U.S. partner sees ample room for growth in sales of Ichiban, given the rising popularity of Japanese food.

Domestic rival Sapporo Holdings was quick to seize on the American market's potential and now leads in sales among Japanese brewers there, at 2.3 million cases.

(Nikkei)

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