Friday, 16 December 2016

Going Dutch


The news that Heineken is buying most of the tied pub estate of Punch Taverns has been written about on one hand as a great and confident nod to the future of the British pub and by by others as the return of the pre Beer Orders beer world.  Is either position really the case?

Ẁith the addition of 1900 pubs to its existing 1100 or so, soon Heineken will control over 3000 pubs and will apply, I assume, their rules to their new tenants. This will allow the tenants (in theory) access to a maximum of 176 cask beers, mainly chosen from big brewers.  On the contrary, one of the good things about Punch in their latter days was the ability of its tenants to buy from far and wide, mainly through SIBA, though of course, Punch did apply their mark-up to the end product invoice. This allowed access to hundreds of beers. Jeff Bell describes the process here for those interested in it.  As far as I know, Star Inns and Bars (Heineken's pub arm), allow no such flexibility. Indeed their tenants in my area tell me that far from being allowed access to the whole Heineken list, there is usually a much smaller list from which they must choose and requests for access to the bigger list, imperfect though it is,  are stonewalled by area managers.  One must assume that is done on grounds of profit, by Heineken purchasing and selling large volumes of a small amount of brands, led of course by their wholly owned offshoot, Caledonian Brewery.  It puts Star Inns and Bars tenants at a considerable disadvantage over rivals who are not so hidebound.

Now the Beer Orders have been long since revoked and funnily enough, Punch were in the process of really cleaning their act up - a process presumably approved of by Heineken, as they have stumped up £305 million to take control - but will this massive tie really be good for choice? Heineken are clearly aware of this concern and issued a statement to the London Evening Standard. Reading this rather bland and wishy washy set of "assurances" you may not exactly be reassured.  Lawson Mountstevens, head of Heineken’s Star Pubs & Bars UK estate, told the Standard: “Our plan is to keep great London pubs as high-quality venues."  He added: "Around 15% of the brands we sell in each of our existing pubs are not owned by us, so we use regional cask-ale brewers such as Fuller’s. I want to reassure sceptics that, subject to the deal for us buying the Punch pubs completing, we will aim to keep up this policy of selling a number of non-Heineken beers.”. 

Convinced? Me neither. A huge loss of choice will do nothing for the dog eat dog situation of over supply and may well see off quite a few brewers as markets close to them. In this respect we are indeed heading back to the closed markets pre Beer Orders. The Good Old Days?  For Heineken, maybe.

Heineken's boast of maintaining choice looks much less attractive of you look at it as Heineken selling 85% of brands they own in pubs.

To save you the arithmetic Heineken are paying an average of £160,000 a pub. Their partner,  Patron Capital will retain and run the 'Punch B' pubs of which there are 1,329 as well as TopCo. 

11 comments:

Cooking Lager said...

Look on the bright side TAND. This will increase distribution of Fosters and cooking lager enthusiasts who find pubs dominated by Carling will now find it easier to find Fosters giving real choice.

Tandleman said...

Every cloud eh?

RedNev said...

CL's cheery optimism always brightens the day!

My local is a Star pub and it regularly has a wide choice from national and local breweries. I do get the impression, however, that this is not typical of Star.

ElectricPics said...

Loss of choice might be the price to pay for the rejuvenation of a lot of pubs. Certainly in the North East, many very poor Heineken-owned pubs have had substantial investment which has resulted in them becoming popular and successful. Leaseholders don't seem to complain much and rents are fair. This is a far cry from when the estate was the S&N Pub Co, when there was no investment, stupid rents and leaseholders were treated very badly.

Stonch Beer said...

I know someone, a very experienced operator who used to head quite a sizeable pub company. He now has a handful of very successful pubs, all leased from Star (Heineken). Now he's as savvy as they come, and they must love him. So if anyone is going to get the best possible selection of beers from the pubco - and resist the sort of stonewalling Peter describes in his post above - it's this fella. He also knows his beers. Yet whenever I see the draught selection in his otherwise excellent pubs I do wince a little: it's all Cally and Thwaites and Theakstons on the handpumps, and Heineken brands on the keg.

Maybe this is a real cause for worry...

Curmudgeon said...

On balance, I'd be considerably happier for a brewer to be running pubs than a debt-ridden pubco constantly looking for opportunities to sell them for alternative use.

Choice is found across the market, not necessarily in every individual pub.

Really? said...

If you're going to knock them you could at least get the name right - the Standard did!

It's Star Pubs and Bars.

Tandleman said...

Fair enough but don't be a twat.

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