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Intro’ to Pub Companies (Pubcos)

CAMRA has made it our mission to equip pub goers with information about who owns and manages pubs. Our aim is to enable you to make more informed decisions about where you drink and to empower you to champion the cause of your local pubs. In this series Paul Ainsworth  provides the facts on who owns pubs, how that effects how they are run and what the impact is on us as customers and the communities in which we live.

Paul Ainsworth

A CAMRA member since 1980, firstly in Cambridge and most recently in Barnsley, Paul is chair of CAMRA’s Pub Heritage Group and is CAMRA’s National Planning Policy Adviser. Paul is a former regional director for East Anglia.

Intro’ to Pub Companies (Pubcos)

CAMRA has made it our mission to equip pub goers with information about who owns and manages pubs. Our aim is to enable you to make more informed decisions about where you drink and to empower you to champion the cause of your local pubs. In this series Paul Ainsworth  provides the facts on who owns pubs, how that effects how they are run and what the impact is on us as customers and the communities in which we live.

Emma Inch

A CAMRA member since 1997, John is volunteer with a keen interest in the technicalities of beer dispense, a GBBF bar manager, editor of Manchester’s Beer Buzz magazine and sits on CAMRA’s Technical Advisory Group.

Who owns your local?

Pubs have remained at the heart of our communities for centuries, so much so that it’s easy not to think too deeply about them, who owns them or their inner working and business practices. If the drinks flow, there’s a great atmosphere and people have a good time! What more can we ask of the esteemed and venerable institution that is the Great British Pub? The bottom line is that this can be a tricky subject to navigate for even veteran fans of pub culture. Understanding how the ownership and management of pubs impacts upon drinkers, our wallets and the dignity and livelihoods of the people that run them is key to becoming a more conscious consumer of the drinks we love.

Who owns your local?

Pubs have remained at the heart of our communities for centuries, so much so that it’s easy not to think too deeply about them, who owns them or their inner working and business practices. If the drinks flow, there’s a great atmosphere and people have a good time! What more can we ask of the esteemed and venerable institution that is the Great British Pub? The bottom line is that this can be a tricky subject to navigate for even veteran fans of pub culture. Understanding how the ownership and management of pubs impacts upon drinkers, our wallets and the dignity and livelihoods of the people that run them is key to becoming a more conscious consumer of the drinks we love.

“Understanding the ownership and management of pubs… is key to becoming a more conscious consumer of the drinks we love.”

— Paul Ainsworth

“Apples too, have personalities which lend themselves to different uses… some may be more suited to cooking, and others to eating, or drinking as cider or juice.”

— Rachel Hendry

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A Potted History of The Pub Company

Fifty years ago, when CAMRA was formed, the pub landscape looked very different. For a start, there were many more of them – some 75000 against around 47500 now. The majority of pubs (52000 or so) were owned by breweries. The 89 small and regional breweries had 13800 of them and the rest were in the hands of the   – Bass Charrington, Allied, Whitbread, Scottish & Newcastle, Watney/Grand Metropolitan and Courage/Imperial.

Most of the other 23000 pubs were (in name anyway – many their beer supplies to a big brewer in return for loans and discounts). Companies that just owned pubs were few and far between – the likes of Sir John Fitzgerald in the north-east and Heavitree in the southwest (though they tied themselves to Bass).

Just about every pub-owning brewery rigorously imposed a supply tie on its own products. As a result, new breweries found outlets hard to come by and we customers were hardly spoilt for choice, as a glance at a Good Beer Guide of that era will reveal.

A Potted History of The Pub Company

Fifty years ago, when CAMRA was formed, the pub landscape looked very different. For a start, there were many more of them – some 75000 against around 47500 now. The majority of pubs (52000 or so) were owned by breweries. The 89 small and regional breweries had 13800 of them and the rest were in the hands of the – Bass Charrington, Allied, Whitbread, Scottish & Newcastle, Watney/Grand Metropolitan and Courage/Imperial. 

Most of the other 23000 pubs were (in name anyway – many their beer supplies to a big brewer in return for loans and discounts). Companies that just owned pubs were few and far between – the likes of Sir John Fitzgerald in the north-east and Heavitree in the southwest (though they tied themselves to Bass).

Just about every pub-owning brewery rigorously imposed a supply tie on its own products. As a result, new breweries found outlets hard to come by and we customers were hardly spoilt for choice, as a glance at a Good Beer Guide of that era will reveal.

Then, in 1989, along came the Beer Orders. The story of this epochal legislation (for better or worse) is superbly told in Laura Hadland’s recent Fifty Years of CAMRA book. In essence, the government acknowledged the stranglehold on the industry exercised by the Big Six and, among other things, capped their pub ownership to 2000.

By now, because of closures and sell-offs, the Big Six owned fewer pubs between them CAMRA’s pub campaigners, of course, dreamed of a new golden age of multi-handpumped free houses galore, but the reality was sadly different.

Then, in 1989, along came the Beer Orders. The story of this epochal legislation (for better or worse) is superbly told in Laura Hadland’s recent Fifty Years of CAMRA book. In essence, the government acknowledged the stranglehold on the industry exercised by the Big Six and, among other things, capped their pub ownership to 2000.

By now, because of closures and sell-offs, the Big Six owned fewer pubs between them CAMRA’s pub campaigners, of course, dreamed of a new golden age of multi-handpumped free houses galore, but the reality was sadly different.

New companies were quickly established, usually with close links to the Big Six breweries, to buy up these pubs in big batches. These new companies then negotiated beer supply deals for the pubs they’d just purchased, most often with the same pub company who previously owned the pubs. Enterprise Inns, for instance, started off with the purchase of 368 pubs from Bass, and that’s where they bought the beer from.

In the years that followed, wheeling and dealing saw companies variously grow, collapse, merge, acquire, dispose – it was very difficult to keep up with who owned what. Some companies concentrated on managed pubs, some on tenancies, a few on a mixture of both. By 2004, Punch Taverns and Enterprise each owned more than 8000 pubs, though both had accumulated so much debt that they ran into trouble come the financial crash in 2008 and were force to economise. We’ll have a closer look at the current pub company scene in the next article.

New companies were quickly established, usually with close links to the Big Six breweries, to buy up these pubs in big batches. These new companies then negotiated beer supply deals for the pubs they’d just purchased, most often with the same pub company who previously owned the pubs. Enterprise Inns, for instance, started off with the purchase of 368 pubs from Bass, and that’s where they bought the beer from.

In the years that followed, wheeling and dealing saw companies variously grow, collapse, merge, acquire, dispose – it was very difficult to keep up with who owned what. Some companies concentrated on managed pubs, some on tenancies, a few on a mixture of both. By 2004, Punch Taverns and Enterprise each owned more than 8000 pubs, though both had accumulated so much debt that they ran into trouble come the financial crash in 2008 and were force to economise. We’ll have a closer look at the current pub company scene in the next article.

Next time you go to buy cider, why not take a look at the varietals on offer? Pick one you know, or push the boat out and pick one that you don’t.”

— Rachel Hendry

“The Beer Orders were actually revoked in 2003 so brewers today are no longer prevented from having over 2000 pubs.”

— Paul Ainsworth

A brief history of Punch Taverns illustrates the volatility surrounding pubcos from the 1990s onwards. Punch formed in 1997, purchasing a tranche of pubs from Bass. Two years later, they bought Inn Business (mostly former Whitbread pubs) and then the rump of the Allied estate. The managed pubs were spun off into a separate division called Spirit. In 2003, they acquired their 3100-strong rival Pubmaster plus a couple of smaller companies. Next, Scottish & Newcastle’s managed pubs were snapped up and added to Spirit. By 2011 the impact of the crash was being felt, calling for a ‘strategic review’. Spirit was demerged and, in 2015, sold to Greene King. Come 2016, a takeover bid totalling £403m (plus the taking on of a billion pounds of debt) was accepted; 1900 pubs went to Heineken with the remaining 1300 residing with Patron Capital, though the Punch brand has been retained.

What, then, of the breweries that still owned pubs? The Beer Orders were actually revoked in 2003 so brewers today are no longer prevented from having over 2000 pubs. However, brewers have tended to move in different directions. In some cases (e.g. Greene King and Marstons) this extends only so far as having separate management structures for their brewing and pub operations. Others, though (Fullers, Youngs, Charles Wells), have sold their breweries to become just pub companies. Thwaites sold their main brands and downscaled to a mini-brewery.

A brief history of Punch Taverns illustrates the volatility surrounding pubcos from the 1990s onwards. Punch formed in 1997, purchasing a tranche of pubs from Bass. Two years later, they bought Inn Business (mostly former Whitbread pubs) and then the rump of the Allied estate. The managed pubs were spun off into a separate division called Spirit. In 2003, they acquired their 3100-strong rival Pubmaster plus a couple of smaller companies. Next, Scottish & Newcastle’s managed pubs were snapped up and added to Spirit. By 2011 the impact of the crash was being felt, calling for a ‘strategic review’. Spirit was demerged and, in 2015, sold to Greene King. Come 2016, a takeover bid totalling £403m (plus the taking on of a billion pounds of debt) was accepted; 1900 pubs went to Heineken with the remaining 1300 residing with Patron Capital, though the Punch brand has been retained.

What, then, of the breweries that still owned pubs? The Beer Orders were actually revoked in 2003 so brewers today are no longer prevented from having over 2000 pubs. However, brewers have tended to move in different directions. In some cases (e.g. Greene King and Marstons) this extends only so far as having separate management structures for their brewing and pub operations. Others, though (Fullers, Youngs, Charles Wells), have sold their breweries to become just pub companies. Thwaites sold their main brands and downscaled to a mini-brewery.

In the meantime, the treatment of their tenants by many of the Pubcos had become a major issue and, after years of campaigning , the Government was persuaded, in 2014, to announce a statutory Pubs Code aimed at regulating pub company practices and ensuring fairer treatment for tenants. A guide to The Pubs Code will feature on Learn & Discover soon.

Pub companies are here to stay and some of them (mostly smaller ones) are very good, treating their licensees well and clearly regarding their pubs as more than just property assets. It would, though, be difficult to argue that the ways in which some companies operate raise many issues around their custodianship of what aren’t just piles of bricks-and-mortar but, in most cases, precious and valued community assets.

In the meantime, the treatment of their tenants by many of the Pubcos had become a major issue and, after years of campaigning , the Government was persuaded, in 2014, to announce a statutory Pubs Code aimed at regulating pub company practices and ensuring fairer treatment for tenants. A guide to The Pubs Code will feature on Learn & Discover soon.

Pub companies are here to stay and some of them (mostly smaller ones) are very good, treating their licensees well and clearly regarding their pubs as more than just property assets. It would, though, be difficult to argue that the ways in which some companies operate raise many issues around their custodianship of what aren’t just piles of bricks-and-mortar but, in most cases, precious and valued community assets.

Mike Clarke ©2021

Support pub tenants!

Read more about how CAMRA campaigns in support of pub company tenants.

Pub of the future Pt.1

Join Katie Mather in her series exploring how the pub of the future can ensure its longevity whilst welcoming pub goers of all stripes. 

Mike Clarke ©2021

Support pub tenants!

Read more about how CAMRA campaigns in support of pub company tenants.

Pub of the future Pt.1

Katie Mather looks at how the pub of the future can ensure its longevity whilst welcoming pub goers of all stripes. 

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