I do like it when big companies try to get their own way and promptly find themselves poking their own eyes out. Heineken have been supplying Wetherspoons pubs for 35 years with a contract worth £60,000,000 a year in revenue. Wetherspoons have 925 pubs in the UK and 2 pubs in Ireland, and it is this one of these Irish pubs which has been the cause of the cancellation of the long standing deal. In Ireland the average price of a pint of Heineken and Murphys is about five euros (about £3.80), Wetherspoons wanted to sell both at three euros (£2.37) in its new pub as per its other Eire outlet in Dublin. At this point Heineken declined to supply the single Irish outlet without conditions and Wetherspoons decided to cancel the whole deal.
Now I know that Wetherspoons is a big company itself (although virtually nothing when its £200m net worth is put next to Heinekens £11 billion) and frankly they’ll manage without the 926 pubs worth of trade. Wetherspoons may well have its faults, the beer pricing attracting some less than desirable customers, the places being big soulless spaces and the food being slightly inconsistent when it hits the table, but conversely it is good value, does decent real ale and world beer at reasonable prices and is a known quantity in an unknown place. Tim Martin and his management team may not be everyones cup of tea, but you know where you stand with him, he doesn’t step back from a fight and he sticks to his principles if they are popular or not.
The side effect of all this is that the following products will be pulled from Wetherspoons, Heineken, Murphys, Strongbow, John Smith, Amstel, Kronenberg and Fosters among others. In Ireland, the chain also does not stock Guinness after a disagreement with Diageo, the owners of the brand, over retail pricing. Heineken say they are looking at a resolution to the issue, but Tim Martin has called their hand and they may be a price to pay to get back at the table. Lets be frank here, all five brands affected can all be easily replaced or other products promoted up to the first tier roster of drinks and it has been reported that the stouts will be replaced by Bath Ales Dark Side Stout and Marston’s Revisionist Craft Stout instead, a massive step up from the two Irish brands in my opinion. So for the customer the beer range has had its blandness quotient significantly decreased overnight.
There will be those of course who argue that Wetherspoons destroys local independent pubs when it comes along, buts let take two local towns in Calderdale, Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge. The latter only gained a Wetherspoons a few months ago and the former has had one for a good number of years now. Firstly it is noted that Wetherspoons will only open up where it can make money, thats business. It is not healthy for them to destroy the local pub scene as people come for a night out to town, not to “go to Wetherspoons”, it is mainly a stop off on route or for some cheap dinner.
Sowerby Bridge has a thriving pub scene, it caters for the cheap drinks crowd to the real ale mob to the cocktail chasers. When I last visited none of these had closed down, and seemed to be doing decent trade for the time of week. I suspect some food sales dropped off initially where they were not a wet led business, but people are creatures of habit and if they like a place they return, if they think the food is better elsewhere, then that is for the other pub to impress them sufficiently to get them back. I suspect one venue in town had suffered more than others with direct competition on the food and drink front, but they will have adapted to the new situation in town by now.
I’ve covered Brighouse with a fine tooth comb over the last few months, so I’ll not linger. The town suffered a major slump in pubs about 3-4 years ago, the delayed reaction from the recession when the lack of money finally caught up with businesses. However since that low we have had 2 new bars open, the rejuvenation of three bars from closed premises to viable businesses and the rise of the town as hub for live music as well as the reinforcement of the good pubs which got through the financial crisis with less problems. Wetherspoons presence hurting the town? It may have took a temporary small knock, but those places had money problems before the Richard Oastler hit town.
As I said earlier they are not everyones cup of tea, but they are a fixture in most towns in the UK now and have to be lived with, as they won’t be going away anytime soon.