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Tony Halstead meets Paul Baker, the man behind Thwaites' multi-layered business strategy Northern drinkers tend to associate Daniel Thwaites with...

Tony Halstead meets Paul Baker, the man behind Thwaites' multi-layered business strategy

Northern drinkers tend to associate Daniel Thwaites with just one thing - its award-winning beers and lagers. But there is much more to the north's biggest brewer than the amber nectar that flows from its headquarters in Blackburn, Lancashire.

Thwaites is probably one of the most diverse operators in the UK brewing industry, with pubs, hotels, bottling and canning giving the company a range of different strings to its bow.

These different operations combine to give Thwaites annual production output of more than 350,000 barrels a year - and with an annual business turnover of more than £162m, the company is firmly established in the elite top 10 of British brewing companies.

And in times that are generally acknowledged to be difficult for the beer and pub industry, Thwaites is expanding its operations.

Production at the Star Brewery, Blackburn, is now running almost to capacity, while the company is continuing to expand its 400-strong estate of pubs and freetrade operations into new and exciting territories.

Managing director Paul Baker believes the company's multi-stranded approach to its business has stood it in good stead and helped it reach its dominant position in the brewing market.

"Thwaites may be known as the 'Northern Brewer', but it's the range of our activities that helped us get to where we are today," he says.

"Beer packaging through our ultra-modern canning lines represents a growing part of our business, while contract brewing is another area that has seen huge expansion over the years.

"When you add the contribution made by our tied pubs and our hotels division, it flags up a highly-diversified field of operations. It also lessens the risk introduced by an all-eggs-in-one-basket approach."

Thwaites has also refused to adopt a "one-brand company" approach. While Thwaites Original remains its core house-beer brand, diversification into other beer styles has been a feature of the brewery's recent history.

Thwaites' German connection has been the success story of the past 10 years, with the company forging valuable links with brewers Warsteiner and Kaltenberg.

Brands from these two German breweries play an influential role in Thwaites' trading success, with Kaltenberg actually brewed on licence in the Blackburn brewery.

"While we have developed our own range of beers we have forged relationships with other brewers and suppliers to ensure our tied and freetrade business is able to offer a range of different quality brands," explains Baker.

Apart from its tied estate of 420 pubs, Thwaites has probably one of the biggest northern freetrade businesses, servicing some 1,500 accounts.

As well as the emerging restaurant sector, Thwaites

has developed a significant sports club account base,

and has been able to put an added bonus into freetrade

deals through a range of sponsorships to encourage

grass-roots sports.

But the company can also boast some of the biggest sports club supplies to its name: these high-profile deals now include Premiership soccer club Blackburn Rovers and Championship clubs Burnley and Blackpool.

Thwaites is also sole supplier at Lancashire County Cricket Club, where it sponsors the team, while another blue-chip account is Blackpool Pleasure Beach, where 17 different bars provide handsome barrelage returns.

"Our success in the freetrade is one of the high spots of recent years - and we firmly believe that one of the main reasons is the experience of our sales team," says Baker.

"These days licensees and club operators do not want to deal with faceless companies where their account tends to become just a statistic.

"We firmly believe that people want to buy from people not companies, so our relationship with freetrade customers tends to be a very personalised one."

Thwaites is the biggest private employer in Blackburn and one of the leading companies in the north-west, with more than 2,000 people on its payroll.

"We have been a fixture in the life of Blackburn for years and I think the townspeople are fairly proud of the brewery and the role it plays locally.

"Our Shire horses are still a feature of brewery life - and perhaps they sum up what a brewery such as Thwaites is all about, more than anything else.

"While we want to be forward looking, we never want to forget our history and I think in our bicentenary year we still have the balance right," Baker adds.

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