Big brewers supporting small ones

News from the “Morning Advertiser” that Charles Wells pub company are to open a speciality beer pub in their home town of Bedford made me think about the big brewery business model.

In a period when small producers and local produce are cool, and big brands just aren’t, more and more of those big brands will want a piece of the smaller ones. In the past, they’d have taken over smaller brands, incorporated them, and eventually done away with them altogether. Now, it makes more sense to keep them intact, but at arms length.

McDonalds aren’t hiding the fact that they own a share of Pret a Manger, the posh high street sandwich chain (itself now also a big brand). They just don’t publicise it much. It’s insurance for them in case the bottom falls out of the little brown beef pattie market, and also protects them from accusations of being low-class, or peddlers of only unhealthy food. They’re hedging their bets.

Charles Wells Pub Company, a part of the growing Wells and Youngs’ empire, are helping the parent company to cover itself here, too. People can’t accuse it of crushing competition, or reducing variety if it keeps opening pubs selling boutique beers – beers, of course, which don’t directly challenge it in the marketplace.

Market forces might be working out in the favour of the British drinker: if customers want choice and the products of smaller breweries, the big breweries are going to get in on the act and help out.