Best of both worlds for Ridleys

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Essex brewer Ridleys plans to expand its estate as well as raise beer production.With most companies choosing to ditch their brewing interests in...

Essex brewer Ridleys plans to expand its estate as well as raise beer production.

With most companies choosing to ditch their brewing interests in favour of retailing, finding a company that gives equal weight to both is fairly rare.

However, that is the intention of Essex brewer Ridleys which is currently aiming to raise beer production while expanding its tenanted pub estate.

The expansion forms the basis of a company strategy devised by Brian Field (pictured)​, the new managing director who has been at the helm since January.

Brian stresses that brewing is a firm part of the Ridley family business - and is there to stay. In fact, the brewer is planning to drive up sales of its core brands and is in the process of a complete revamp of its products, giving them a fresh new look and design. Its retail arm is looking to expand from 67 tenancies to 100 within five years.

"If you've got pubs, one of the unique selling points is the link to a brewery but if maintaining that brewery is at the expense of dragging the company down it would be worth looking at the options. We are nowhere near that stage," said Brian.

"In a rational world breweries of this size would all close tomorrow. But there is no alternative use at Ridleys and if all the breweries did close, there would be no cask ale. Cask ale is a niche and there will always be someone who is prepared to brew it."

Brian has been tasked with "preserving the Ridley family jewels" and to do so he has had to implement changes to take the company forward.

"The future's got to be in pubs," he said. "Our main criteria is that our pubs will sell cask ale rather than be your typical roses round the door outlet. Most of our pubs are nice looking but the key to success is that they are well looked after."

This comes from good recruitment and training - an area which is currently being scrutinised to make sure tenants who want and need training are given the opportunity to do so.

However, Brian admits that his target of 100 pubs will be tough in a marketplace which has little to offer in Essex and East Anglia. "Picking up good opportunities is itself a problem and we will be looking towards employing an estates manager who can assist with that," he said.

Running good pubs will work in tandem with Brian's plans to boost beer production which currently stands at around a third of the 30,000 barrel capacity. He has restructured the sales team in order to tackle the task and appointed John O'Neill, formerly of Mansfield Brewery, as sales director.

"We have changed the emphasis on sales and we hope to continue to grow freetrade sales substantially which currently account for a third of overall sales," Brian said. "There has to be more emphasis on local freetrade.

"We will also be making some big changes to our brands and updating our designs and pump clips. At the moment our overall presentation leaves a lot to be desired.

"We are producing five or six brands and 12 special beers but I want people to view us as a serious brewer and not a microbrewer and this can be achieved by rationalising down to a smaller number of core brands and re-badging ."

Brian's plans for change have come suddenly for the brewer that saw the surprise departure of former managing director Greg Jephcott before Christmas. Brian, who up until last summer worked as brewing and brands director at Greene King, has been joined by family member Nelion Ridley who has taken over control of marketing. Chairman Nicholas Ridley, who lives in Monaco, keeps in daily contact with his team.

Any new boss brings a degree of uncertainty to a company but according to Brian his arrival has been welcomed.

"Certainly there was an amount of fear when I arrived and there were some tough decisions to be made. Both internally and externally my appointment has been treated very positively. There is a lot of work to do on team building but I think most people appreciate it is our intention to develop and grow.

"We are currently preparing a business plan to put ourselves in a position to borrow and invest. If there is one criticism our tenants would make it would probably be their frustration over the lack of money invested in pubs. We will be addressing that.

"You have to grow to survive and maintain profitability and that's exactly what we'll be doing."

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