My “most hated brewery” of all time, Greene King (frankly I’d rather go dry than drink most of their beer), who also manage 1900 of the country’s pubs and bars have had a takeover offer of £774 million accepted by the board of the Spirit Pub Company, the managed pub company spun off from Punch Taverns a few years ago.  Spirit brands include Chef and Brewer, Fayre and Square, Flaming Grill and Wacky Warehouse.   Greene King brands include their self branded pubs, Hungry Horse and the Loch Fyne restaurants.  Both groups lead off food based venues, rather than wet led sales.

Adding in Spirit’s 1200 pubs, it means the combined group will have control of approximately 3000 pubs in the UK.  Of these 1800 will be managed pubs, with the remainder leased, tenanted or franchised.  Despite the two companies wanting to concentrate of managed estates, they are quite happy to keep the high turnover third party ran businesses, such as the cream of the Punch Taverns tenant estate that was hived off with Spirit when it was created in 2011.

Personally I do like the Chef and Brewer chain, decent food, normally holding a decent ale or two, and located in generally nice locations and as a parent Wacky Warehouse can have its uses from time to time, but you do find that the pubs adjoining them are not the place for a quiet relaxed meal as they do seem to always have those handful of families who have never taught their kids how to behave in a public arena and don’t know the meaning of parental control.  The same could be said of Hungry Horse in the Greene King group, which has a similar food / drink / play business model.

This does highlight the synergies between the two groups, and where they can save money.  Flaming Grill,  Fayre and Square, Greene King brand and Hungry Horse are all “ping and pop” venues, excepting the cooking of grilled / fried items.   Everything is prepackaged with instruction of which program to use and for how long to cook it for in the Merrychef (these are large industrial microwaves which can cook 6-8 meals at once.   The kitchen is that automated that menus can be programmed into the Merrychefs so any judgement is totally removed from the kitchen staff s jobs.  Sounds soulless, it is, I’ve worked in chain retail catering, both in the kitchen and as part of the head office behind the restaurants and I don’t envy the people who do it one bit.

With Greene King taking over, two things are inevitable, the first is that suppliers will be consolidated, meaning the spaghetti bolognaise at one of the chains will be the same as another due to volume purchasing discounts across the group, however with a lot of these pubs not many people will recognise this merging of product ranges.   The second and more serious issue will be the homogenisation of beer choice across the group.  At most of these chains it isn’t brilliant as it stands, its normally a choice of Carlsberg Tetley or InBev core brands with one or two (three in places like Chef and Brewer) real ales to choose from, of which at least one will be a major regional or national brand such a Fullers, Timothy Taylor or Black Sheep.

However if you visit a Greene King owed pub you will have the choice of Greene King IPA, another bland GK beer such as Old Speckled Hen and if lucky a guest beer and usually an uninspiring one at that.  The first thing that Greene King will do it move their beers into the Spirit brands to the exclusion of external beers once existing contractual obligations expire, which means another 1200 pubs where I am having to drop onto Becks or similar continental beer for an acceptable drink.   One of the big attractions of spending £774m is that you now have 1200 more pubs to sell the groups beers to, thus improving turnover in another arm of the business, as well as merging the profit from Spirit into your bottom line, at the end of the day they money spent on the acquisition has got to be reclaimed from somewhere.

We should be opening up our pubs to new beers, interesting beers, but this move is like slime moving across the country, homogenising our life and taste experiences wherever you go, thankfully we have a glut of great independent pubs, some of which are doing a great job despite leasing from a pub company and suffering the high costs, they deserve our support more.