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10-04-2013, 17:11
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This week I want to kick off with one of my favourite brewers, Greene King, those purveyors of high quality unique beer who freely encourage a wide choice of guest beers in their tied pubs. *You may detect a large pinch of sarcasm in that last sentence. ***The sight of a pub having three Greene King beers dominating the pumps ensures that my visit is curtailed before it even starts. *Whether you are talking about Abbot Ale, Greene King IPA, Old Speckled Hen or their Hardy and Hanson beers, they are universally bland and uninteresting. **I’ve even spoken to landlords in Midlands who run Greene King Inns who can’t stand the beer. *If you were to offer me the choice of being “dry” for the rest of my life or only being able to drink their products, temperance would be quickly embraced.
I’m also not the world biggest fan of Wetherspoons any more. *The prices charged for all but the core range of beers no longer have the differential over other nearby pubs to make you want to choose them over the competition, and although I’ve not eaten there myself recently others who do regularly are noticing slightly tighter portion control on the food side. *However if you want somewhere with a good chance of a nice pint and a full stomach for a decent price they are a “banker” when somewhere you don’t know the local pub scene. *Their guest list normally has at least one beer which you are happy to drink a few pints of.
One of the pub chains main crimes in my eyes is that two of Wetherspoons core products are Greene King IPA and Greene King Ruddles (known to most people as Ruddles County). *These beers you will find in every one of their pubs with it normally being sold at the lowest price point in the establishment. *The pub also features three other of their beers on the guest list. *The fact that every one of their pubs serves the two core beers shows that many people disagree with me on Greene King products. *From a purely business view, when you multiply this supply of beer to a chain of 800 pubs, it is of the size of that would be classed as a major client by even the likes of AB Inbev.
So when you object to a new pub in a town where one of your subsidiaries control 7 pubs in the town, it smacks of protectionism of a local monopoly. *When the people who want to open the pub just happen to already have 800 pubs taking multiple products from your parent company, it could be considered a very dangerous game of russian roulette. *This scenario is happening right now in Sterling, Scotland. *Wetherspoons have been trying to open a pub in a disused shop for several years now and last year, after numerous objections were overcome, permission was granted. **Greene King via their Belhaven subsidiary are reportedly a major partner in the consortia who have now forced a judicial review of the decision.
Belhaven (part of the Greene King group) is a large player in the Scottish beer market with 300 pubs across the country and is based in the town itself. *The company is not far short of half the size of the Wetherspoons in terms of pub estate. *Stirling town centre (according to Google Maps) has about 60 pubs depending on how big you define the town centre as. *The Belhaven group own 7 of them, a share of 12%. *The main thing that strikes you about this number is that Stirling has a lot of pubs, one more is not going to bring down an otherwise health pub in this town, even if it has offerings that a Wetherspoons bring along.
Given this, it seems that risking, even slightly, probably your biggest supply contract outside your tied group of pubs for a small loss of market share of the pub estate in the town is not a wise business choice. **Is the main concern that the new proposed Wetherspoons pub will sell the beer which is at the heart of the 7 Belhaven offerings in the town at a lower price and pull customers directly from them, my suspicion is that it is just this. *Belhaven and Greene King should realise that competition is part of commercial life, even in the pub trade where a relatively small number of companies control a large share of the pub estate. **Every other pub has to deal with this, they are only playing the same game as the rest of them.

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