I recently reported on the news that Heineken had agreed to acquire most of the Punch Taverns pub estate, something that very much came out of the blue. Some felt it might be a positive development to have pubs run by a brewer rather than a heavily-indebted property company, but others were worried it might be a case of “out of the frying pan, into the fire” and that consumer choice could be restricted.
So I thought it would be interesting to run a poll on what blog readers thought of the deal. It was deliberately couched as a straight binary choice with no option for a cop-out that wasn’t on the table anyway. And the result was pretty conclusive, with 84% plumping for Heineken over Punch.
I have to say I tend to agree – surely it must be better for pubs to be run by a company with a direct interest in promoting beer sales in them. The combined company will still have only about 6% of the pubs in the country, and probably a lower total beer volume than Wetherspoon’s, so it’s still well below the level at which monopoly concerns start to rear their head. And I’m not remotely convinced by the argument that competition is impaired because a licensee can only choose from 50 different cask beers rather than 300.
I expect to see more of the re-tying of the British pub stock over the next few years, and the end of the giant leased pub companies. But, as ever, I could be entirely wrong.