From Maris Piper to Maris Otter - a profile of Cains

By Andrew Pring

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cains, Brewing

From Maris Piper  to Maris Otter - a profile of Cains
There's two guys worked down the chip shop who swear they're ale men

It's four years now since the Cains brewery in Liverpool came into the unlikely possession of two young Asian wholesalers.

They have been four years that have radically altered many people's perceptions about the new kids on the regional brewer block.

Few Liverpudlians witnessing the Dusanj brothers' arrival in July 2002 imagined they would be there for long.

Even fewer in the beer trade believed they were serious players who could turn round an historic, but for the previous two years, a money-losing brewery.

As outsiders to the area and with no links to brewing, Ajmail and Sudarghara Dusanj were written off by one and all as wheeler-dealer asset-strippers who'd be there today and gone tomorrow.

Yet despite their lack of trade pedigree, the Dusanjs have proved remarkably at home in the brewing game and made a real mark on the

business. A £2m-a-year loss-making operation

has just recorded its first profit for many years, albeit a modest £57,000.

Barrelage is up from 100,000 to almost 250,000 (full capacity is a daunting 450,000 barrels).

Sales have grown from about £20m to £35m.

And canning has risen from 24m filled annually to more than 120m, making it the biggest independent own-label beer canner in the UK.

In an area famous for its regeneration projects, the rebirth of Cains is a classic example of how outsiders can inject fresh life into a struggling operation.

Robert Cain, 1858 founder of the business, would have been proud of the Dusanjs and what they've achieved with his "terracotta palace", the name with which the brothers have christened their huge red-brick Victorian brewery.

An immigrant himself, the Irish entrepreneur would have recognised very well the tenacity and effort that has characterised the Dusanjs regime at Cains.

Duo vowed to lead by example

It's been a seven-days-a-week slog at Cains as the brothers were determined to lead by example. Last Christmas was the first they had had off in 20 years.

But it's how Sid, as friends know him, and Ajmail have always led their lives.

Born in Kent in 1965 and 1966 respectively, they grew up in the Medway region with a father who laboured for Laing on new motorways but who nursed deep ambitions to better himself and his family.

When their father Surinder had arrived from the Punjab, in northern India, in 1962 at the age of 23, he could neither speak nor write English.

But as soon as his savings allowed, he began to buy homes, doing them up and selling them on, often to other family members.

The boys gained their first experience of commercial bargaining while they were both still under 10.

Surinder could not speak easily to estate agents, so Ajmail and Sid sat in with their father and haggled the price down on his behalf.

As a grounding in commercial reality, it could hardly be bettered.

And the early experience of property development, and the value of money, was so formative that the Dusanj brothers insisted their own children should learn as early as possible how to invest successfully.

Their father - who lives next door to both of them - must be proud of how his boys have bettered themselves, for each of his grandchildren has been allocated £10,000 by their parents to play the Stock Market, as best they can.

It was in 1982 that Mr Dusanj senior bought his first shop, a £35,000 fish-and-chip establishment in Chatham.

The boys helped in the shop while acquiring BTEC diplomas in business studies and accountancy, then came into the business full-time.

More shops followed, including an off-licence and then a confectionery and tobacco corner shop.

The shops were traded, then sold - often, again, to family members.

Homes were mortgaged and remortgaged to fund the chain of transactions.

The brothers were involved in almost 20 such deals, as they grew the business exponentially.

Success in the shop business fuelled fresh ambitions, and in 1992 Ajmail and Sid pulled off their biggest deal to date, paying £300,000 to take over the failed soft drinks wholesaler Gardner Shaw.

Mission to revive Gardner Shaw

A third-generation family business starved of investment, Gardner Shaw was far larger than anything the Dusanjs had attempted before.

But the brothers were confident of their customer-facing skills and began turning round the business from their new Midlands homes.

The operation moved from five days a week to all seven, with longer day hours, and beers and spirits were added to the soft drinks specialism.

Over the next 10 years, Gardner Shaw grew from £500,000 of sales to more than £7m. And the family's property interests grew apace too.

Buying beer for wholesaling proved to be the brothers' first dealings with regional brewers and the impressions were favourable. What they saw at regional companies like Shepherd Neame, particularly the local loyalty from customers, gave them the confidence to shoot for Cains when it came on the market in 2002.

"Sheps had such a great heritage, a great brand and great beer," says Ajmail. "We always wanted to build a big brand liked that," says Ajmail. "A brand with value and quality, which we could build on to innovate."

When the Danish Brewing Group put Cains on the market in 2002 for around £3.5m, Ajmail and Sid snapped up their chance.

"We were always looking for the next step," says Ajmail. "We were the first to ring up and the first to visit.

We really liked what we saw. It had such a great heritage and such a strong name locally.

It was losing £2m a year, but we wanted to turn it back into a success. It never crossed our minds to asset-strip."

Brewery restructuring was vital

The Dusanjs were shrewd judges of the brewery's true value. For in truth, although the brewery had had a difficult period between 2000 and 2002, the previous decade under managing director Steve Holt had been a success.

Holt had taken it on when Whitbread bought Boddingtons, which owned the brewers Higson's - the name of the man who'd bought the original brewery off Robert Cain, and the name by which it had been known ever since.

Holt had turned it back to Cains, bought some pubs and by 1999 was returning a profit of £500,000. He had bequeathed them a pretty decent legacy, but one that had been clouded by union problems and mismanagement by its Danish owners.

As a result, when the Dusanjs took over, restructuring was essential, and more than 30 people from a workforce of about 90 were made redundant, though the staff is now up to 97.

Different and streamlined working practices were introduced, with the brothers deeply involved in all aspects of the business. Ajmail looks after all internal operations; Sid takes care of the externals, the sales and marketing operation. Their wives take care of office administration.

Says Ajmail: "You have to give a lead from the top.

"We were always the first to arrive and the last to leave, often at 1am. We had to show we were not just after an easy life."

They inherited a small pub estate - 11 pubs, two of which were managed but have subsequently become tenancies.

In their previous businesses, they'd run a few pubs so were not total strangers to the business. And because it would help them sell much more of their beer, they're keen to grow to as much as 100 over the long term (in his heyday, Robert Cain had 200).

From day one, the Dusanjs were determined to use only the best ingredients for their beer.

"When we ran fish and chip shops, we used the best fish and the best Maris Piper potatoes. We did the same at Cains.

We use Maris Otter malt from Norfolk for our branded beers - it's more expensive than standard malts but it's worth it."

Cains brews a wide range of beers - bitter, mild, stout and lager -for five of the biggest multiple grocers. And it also contract cans for many regional brewers.

Its own beer portfolio comprises cask bitters, a da

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