The Ocelot’s resident beer expert Brewery Bird considers the effect that huge pub companies might have on the range of choice offered to consumers and how it might also secure the long-term future of establishments under their ownership…

During 2016 in the UK, there were 52,750 known working pubs, approximately 17,000 of which are owned outright, or Freehouses as they are termed.

Now at some point, you will have visited a pub which is owned by a pub company such as Enterprise Inns, Punch Taverns, Mitchells & Butler, or Admiral Taverns, all of which are well-known names to most pub-goers.

And these companies all have one thing in common; they will at some point have purchased pubs from another company, which are then let on tied lease or tenancy agreements to self employed operators to run under certain constraints; such as beer-tie, or fixed term rent for instance.

You’ve also probably heard or read about Dutch giant Heinekens’ successful £430 million bid on Friday 10 February to take-over debt-ridden Punch Taverns (subject to regulatory approval)?

Heineken are not new to the UK pub scene, currently owning 1,049 pubs through its Star Pubs & Bars division, but the acquisition of almost 3,200 pubs from Punch will make it the second largest pub company in the UK behind Enterprise Inns, with Greene King bringing up the rear.

And whilst Heineken have tried to allay fears raised by CAMRA and the Punch Tennent Network that Punch licensees and leases will not be forced to stock solely Heineken brand products, one wonders how long it would take for said Heineken products to be offered at a more attractive rate to increase their presence on bars? I mean, that’s just good business sense, isn’t it?

And this may well be a good thing for many lager and cider drinkers. Brewery Bird is aware that not everyone appreciates the never-ending array of ales which our lovely UK brewers see fit to bestow upon us.

Heineken have also confirmed that it will continue to work with SIBA – Society of Independent Brewers Association – to allow its tenants access to a wide range of beers from smaller, independent breweries who have signed up to the SIBA scheme.

One can only hope that Heineken will not withdraw Punch’s finest cask scheme which again offers a varied and interesting assortment of beers from both micro and regional brewers up and down the country – at a slightly more forgiving price to tenants than the SIBA option.

At this point it is difficult to say whether the buy-out is a positive move for the UK beer industry or not – hopefully it will prevent more pub closures if Heineken are indeed going to ‘listen to tenants’ and treat each pub on ‘an individual basis’.

And that can only be a good thing. Right?

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