In an interview with The Morning Advertiser, Westwood insisted none of the Charles Wells beer recipes would change as a result of its acquisition by Marston’s, but stopped short of saying that the brewery's suppliers would definitely remain the same.
“The recipes won’t change at all. Why would you buy a brewery and then change the recipes? It would be bonkers to do it,” he said. ”We have no plans to change any of the recipes at the brewery or any plans to make changes to the brewing staff. The brewery doesn’t need a huge amount of investment and its running pretty well.”
“But malt suppliers, hop suppliers, etc., pretty much all supply the same thing. You don’t have a unique malt to particular malt supplier.”
Marston’s acquired Charles Wells brewing business and distribution rights in a £55m deal this May.
The sale also included the Charles Wells UK distribution rights for Kirin Lager, Estrella Damm, Erdinger and Founders, although Charles Wells retained its 200-plus pubs and other assets in the UK and France.
Full integration complete
On the progress of the acquisition, Westwood confirmed that as of last Friday (28 July) the full integration of the Charles Wells brewery into Marston’s systems had taken place, and from Monday (31 July) all Charles Wells beer deliveries would be being handled by Marston’s.
In a wide-ranging interview, Westwood defended job losses as a result of the acquisition, confirmed that the brewery would be contract brewing Charles Wells’ craft range (Charlie Wells) in the short to medium term, and said the company was in the process of hiring 20 new staff for a retail distribution site at the Bedford brewery.
Westwood said that Marston’s had chosen to acquire Charles Wells due to the “complementary benefits” of the two companies.
“When we look at acquisitions there are several things we have to consider,” he said. “Does it have a brand portfolio that complements ours? Are they the kind of brand we can build for the future? Does it offer our business something we don’t already have, or does it allow our business to accelerate quicker than we would in areas we have weakness?
“Charles Wells did because it had the strength in national accounts and exports. It wasn’t a pre-requsite but the fact that we have bought a brewery with capacity and lager brewing capacity is also quite important. Another key component was about having that geographical reach into London and the south -east that, historically, we didn’t have.”
He also said a rebrand for the Charles Wells brand was “not tomorrow’s priority” but that he “wouldn’t rule it out” and suggested that Marston’s remained “inquisitive” about the possibility of further expanding its portfolio.
Driving for organic growth
“Our fundamental strategy is to grow organically but if there is an opportunity to grow by acquisition then, provided it ticks all the boxes, we are still minded to acquire,” he said.
“This is not something we think about every day, our key drive is organic growth and that’s what we are striving for. But if something comes along, as did Charles Wells, then you take it.”
Marston’s acquisition of Charles Wells is just one of several high-profile buy-outs within the beer industry in recent years. In December 2015, AB InBev purchased Camden Town Brewery in a reported £85m deal. While in June, Carlsberg bought London Fields Brewery.
Westwood insisted, however, that the Charles Wells purchase was not motivated by an attempt to manoeuvre itself into the craft segment.
“When you look at those buyouts and the money that was spent, the acquired were so much smaller than the acquirer, and the acquirer was buying into a sort of market shift or craft trend,” he said.
“We aren’t buying the Charlie Wells brand; this is nothing to do with the craft bit, but to do with the complementary nature that the two companies have, and about the benefits the site and the world beers and exports will bring.”
“The Charlie Wells beers are staying with Charles Wells and will be produced, in two to three years’ time, at their new brewery. In the meantime, we will be making them but we don’t own the brand – we will be contract brewing for them. The wholesale profit will go to them but we will be making a profit on brewing for them.”
Size 'no barrier' to being craft
On the subject of craft beer, Westwood reiterated Marston’s view that cask beer remained “the ultimate craft” and insisted that the size of a brewery shouldn’t be a barrier to being considered craft.
For us this isn’t about craft because in our eyes all our beers are already cask because they have all the credentials,” he said. “Being cask is one of them, raw materials skills and scale are others. It can’t be anything other than craft.”
“I absolutely don’t think that size is a barrier to being considered craft,” he continued. “Sierra Nevada for example is five times bigger than we are but people would consider it to be craft. One of the biggest single breweries in the world is Guinness in Dublin. Is that a craft brewery? By God it is. It’s about ingredients, the skill, the heritage behind it.
“When people say that if you’re brewing five barrels a week you are craft but if you’re brewing 200m hl that isn’t craft, that doesn’t bare any logical explanation at all. It’s just wrong. Why does Camden go from being craft to not craft just because someone else has bought it? It depends on if the recipes and ingredients change.”