Beer 'stranglehold'

English lawmakers target big brewers; CAMRA not impressed

Dec 21, 2004 - A study by a parlimentary committee concludes that big brewers present a greater threat to beer distribution and choice in England than large pub companies.


The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) called the report a "whitewash."

The legislative committee urged an investigation into beer distribution after finding that national brewing giants - such as Scottish and Newcastle, InBev, Adolph Coors and Carlsberg - have a "stranglehold" on the market.

"In the distribution market for beer there is the strong possibility of anti-competitive consequences. We would hope the Office of Fair Trading's latest consideration of market concentration in this area will not be its last. The distribution market should be kept under close and regular scrutiny," the report said.

The MPs launched an investigation into the relationship between pub companies and their tenants after the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) complained the concentration of pub ownership in the hands of a few companies had meant a raw deal for landlords. CAMRA members had hope that the probe might lead to the easing of the "beer tie," benefiting tenants while giving consumers more choice.

"It is likely that pubcos [pub companies], as property companies, would offset the loss of income derived from the removal of the beer tie by charging higher property rent," the report said.

Mike Benner, CAMRA chief executive, disagreed. "I think the outcome is a whitewash, which doesn't really call for action on anything," he said.

Benner said the introduction of "guest beers" in chain pubs "would provide consumers with more choice and small local brewers with improved access to market."

Martin O' Neill, chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, refuted the "whitewash" charges. He said that CAMRA should be looking closer to home for solutions to the lack of pubs serving real ale.

"If it is a whitewash it is only in a small area. CAMRA is advocating a change but maybe the real problem is that insufficient people are drinking real ale," he said. "CAMRA has to look at itself for solutions as the rest of the industry has."

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