My thoughts on the Asahi-Fuller's deal...

Being the editor of Inapub isn't all pub-crawls, pints, and pies for lunch you know. I mean, there is a bit of that, but there's also weeks like this when the brain has to engage properly and ponder the Asahi-Fuller's deal.

For anyone that's somehow managed to miss this piece of news. Last Friday (January 25) Japanese brewer Asahi bought the brewing and brands arm of London-based Fuller's for £250m.

 

LondonPride

 

Unsurprisingly, even amongst the Brexit chaos this has caught the public imagination – in particular of Britain's beer lovers, who have expressed disappointment and sadness for the most part (Dominic Walsh of The Times, said the sale was akin to, "the ravens leaving the Tower of London").

CAMRA have had their say too, of course: "It's a very sad day to see such a well-known, historic and respected name leaving the brewing business," said chairman Jackie Parker.

What do I think?

Well, first up, I think that while it was initially quite a shock, on reflection it's not that startling a move. After all Charles Wells sold its brewery off to Marstons for £55m back in 2017. Fellow London-based business Young's sold off its final interests in brewing back in 2011 to concentrate on its pub estate.

What's different about this? I do think that for many the idea of a (gasp!) foreign company becoming the custodian of such brands Honey Dew, ESB and, of course, London Pride has caused concern.

The latter is seen as the main jewel in this sale for Asahi and it's not hard to see why – brand heritage like that doesn't come along often and it will do well in export markets because of it. However, while bottled British beer can do well in pockets of the world, I question whether that is enough to justify this level of investment.

The only way I can see this working on a scale that makes sense for Asahi though, is if there is a complete change of recipe – for London Pride to become lighter, fizzier and not cask, which after all doesn't really travel.

 

FullersPilotNrewery

 

And then there's the Griffin Brewery in Chiswick. Prime London real estate, will it really be deemed worth keeping as a working brewery when a brewery tourist attraction or (more likely) blocks of flats will give a much better return on that £250m?

Currently, no matter how many people ask me – or how many people I ask in return - we don't know the answers at the moment. This really is one of those occasions were the trite answer, "only time will tell", is about as conclusive as us industry watchers can be.

What we, lovers of British beer, have to hope for is that Asahi doesn't do a Kraft (now called Mondolez) – a company which reneged on promises made during its hostile takeover of Cadbury back in 2010.

That's not to say just because Fuller's new owner isn't British, and does not have a cask ale brewing heritage, that we should expect the worst. What we can hope for is more of a Molson Coors approach to its takeover of Sharp's. Yes, there have been changes there but by and large the integrity of the beer and the brand has been kept intact.