Saturday, 16 May 2009

Punched out

For a number of years, I’ve held the view that the giant pub companies were ultimately unsustainable. This was not because of their financial position, but because they had no unique selling proposition. Ask Tim Martin why you should go in a Wetherspoon’s pub as opposed to a competitor, and he’ll have a ready answer. Likewise William Robinson of the eponymous family brewer. But ask Ted Tuppen why you should go in an Enterprise Inns pub and he’ll do a good impression of a fish.

Now, with the recession, the chickens are really coming home to roost, with Enterprise and especially Punch Taverns in an increasingly precarious financial position. Apparently the value of Punch’s debts now exceeds the total value of their property portfolio. In these circumstances, it’s not surprising that they’re engaged in a fire sale of their crown jewels to various family brewers. In the South-East, Fullers, Charles Wells and Adnams have benefited from this, and now in the North-West first Lees and now Robinson’s have bought tranches of pubs from Punch. It will be interesting to see which pubs Robinson’s get their hands on.

In the longer term, this is likely to lead to a major shift in the balance of power in the pub trade away from the pub companies as heirs of the former Big Six towards the family brewers, who were once derided as an anachronism. I wonder if the heirs of Home and Vaux now regret selling out.

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