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ONLY FOUR years to go to the London Olympics and they're in training for their share of gold amid the verdant dells and thatched roofs of...

ONLY FOUR years to go to the London Olympics and they're in training for their share of gold amid the verdant dells and thatched roofs of Wadworthshire.

You may not be able to find this quintessential English county on the road map but by 2012 it's more likely to be on the itineraries of the anticipated surge of visitors than, say, Devizes.

At least that's the plan. Wadworth, which has brewed in the Wiltshire market town of Devizes for 120 years, has created the fictional shire to market its 250-odd pubs following research among customers, beer drinkers and its own licensees into just what Wadworth means to them.

Strategy switch​It also signals a switch in strategy for the family firm which for many years has relied on the strength of its nationally distributed ale Wadworth's 6X. The brand lost a lot of distribution in 2002 when a long-running sales and marketing link-up with InBev, originally Whitbread, came to an end.

It prompted a thorough review of the business to, in the words of marketing director Paul Sullivan, "find out what Wadworth was all about, what's most important about what we do".

"We researched consumers, pub-goers, beer drinkers and, through quarterly forums, our own pub tenants, on their perceptions of the business," says Sullivan. The Wadworth name came at the top of everything. He continues: "I think the emphasis on 6X had skewed everything. We had to ask ourselves the question - does it really drive footfall in our pubs?

"A pub's character is driven by the character of the people running it. Wadworth pubs are full of character, they are not homogeneous. Many of our customers didn't know they were in a Wadworth pub - that's a problem."

The solution is 'Wadworthshire', summed up by Sullivan as meaning "a unique characterful experience, underpinned by quality and service".

6X has its place as "a taste of Wadworthshire", but it's clear within the new strategy that "our beers support our pubs, they are a stamp of quality for the pubs and a nationally distributed brand can be a kind of calling card for Wadworthshire around the country".

"6X has wonderful latent awareness - the trick is to broaden its distribution," explains Sullivan. "But the important thing for us right now is how we support our tenants. We love to sell loads of beer - but we are responsible for the livelihoods of 600 people out there, we've got to keep them in a pub."

Olympic effort​And he believes the 2012 Games, based only a couple of hours away along the M4, is "worth thinking about" when it comes to driving footfall in Wadworth's pubs. "People will be coming into the UK, and will be looking for the 'English countryside experience'. We should market Wadworthshire, and our pub estate, as a destination for them," he said.

Marketing plans are well under way, including an 'online hub' and point-of-sale in the pubs that make it clear customers have entered Wadworthshire. For Sullivan, though, the most vital thing is that the publicans themselves are engaged with the idea.

"We have got to present licensees with something that makes sense to their business - they have got to see tangible benefits in what we are doing," Sullivan says. "It's not an autocratic approach. We all have beer and a family ethos in common, and our research suggests that tenants find us easy to work with, and we want to include them in what we're doing."

One visible part of that was June's Better Business event that attracted up to 100 licensees - managers, tenants and freetrade customers - to a marquee in the Wadworth brewery yard where they could chat to suppliers and take part in an informal conference with demonstrations and plenty of ideas to take back to their pubs.

Company chairman Charles Bartholomew was delighted at the turnout and is feeling perky about the future of his family's business.

"Our pubs are us, and it all comes back to good licensees," he says. "We are more than 6X, we're a rounded business.

"Half our pubs are the kind of country pubs that people love to visit, and we need to make more of that.

We have got to push our licensees to make the most of themselves, and they must push us, too, to give them the support they need."

An investment for the future​Despite falling beer volumes, sales of Wadworth's own-brewed beer are up this year, and the company is finding that the growth of food and family trade is having a positive effect on cask ale.

A repositioning of 6X as "The Thoroughly Decent Pint" is under way and the brewer is also finding success with Horizon, the seasonal cask beer formerly known as Summersault, which is attracting female and younger drinkers, working as a 'cross-over' category between lager and ale.

Alongside 6X it forms Wadworth's two-pronged attack on the national cask beer market.

A mark of Wadworth's confidence in the traditional product is the new brewhouse that's currently being built on the site of a former mineral water factory next door to the brewery.

Added to a recently completed warehouse, it will mean Wadworth will have spent around £1.5m in the space of 12 months on upgrading the Devizes site - a hefty sum for a family firm.

For head brewer Brian Yorston, though, it's "an investment for the future", meaning that in the long term, as brewing becomes more expensive, Wadworth can cut costs.

"The new brewhouse will give us more flexibility and will use 25 per cent less energy," he says. It will be labour saving and improve hop efficiency, too.

"We are installing the latest technology while keeping to tradition. It will all look very traditional to the visitor - the visitor experience is an important part of what we are trying to achieve with the project."

Work is expected to finish by next January and Yorston estimates it will then take around three months to match the beer produced to what comes out of the old brewhouse, and for the plant to come fully on-stream.

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