The deal, which see Fuller’s take a 100% stake in the business, will give Dark Star access to the funds to invest in new markets and increase sales of its beer brands, which include Hophead, APA, Dark Star Original and Revelation.
It is believed that Fuller’s sees strong potential for Dark Star brands, particularly Hophead, both nationally and internationally.
Standalone business brewing
Dark Star will continue to operate as a standalone business brewing at its Partridge Green site, while managing director James Cuthbertson will remain at the helm. Cuthbertson will work on a three-year strategy to grow the business firstly in Sussex then nationally.
The current directors of Dark Star will continue to operate the company’s four-strong pub estate, which includes the Evening Star in Brighton and the Lockhart Tavern in Haywards Heath, under a separate vehicle.
Cuthbertson said: “The deal means we will continue to do what we do, but gives us huge opportunities to brew more one-off small batch beers hand-in-hand with exploring the export market and expanded bottle and can formats.
“We’ve always described Dark Star as more of a hobby that got out of control than a business, an ethos that will remain at the centre of what we do and what we’re about, after all, beer should be fun and accessible.”
Cornish Orchards success
Simon Dodd, managing director of The Fuller’s Beer Company, said: “Following on from the success we have had with our acquisition of Cornish Orchards, we have been looking at similar opportunities to invest in and work with young, exciting companies that have a similar ethos and commitment to quality as Fuller’s. Following discussions with James and the team at Dark Star, we could see that we could add real benefit to the Dark Star business and it provides a great new range of delicious cask beers that will enhance the Fuller’s portfolio.”
He added: “The question ‘why now’ [in terms of the Dark Star deal] is basically because Fuller’s brewery is a business which is changing; 10 years ago we relied on London Pride, ESB and cask to drive our growth. Now we have a successful wholesale business in Nectar, a vibrant range of keg and cask beers, an artisanal cider business (which remains largely autonomous, based in Duloe), a small batch pilot plant (live in May 2018), and are producing over 35 different beers a year.”
In true Fuller’s style, there will be no rush with its new acquisition, it will take its time to understand the brands, people and culture. Dodd said: “Fuller’s can provide help with brewery capex, back house support (IT, finance, systems), as well as access to our premium pubs and our route to market infrastructure (off trade, nationals, free trade, international and nectar wholesale).
“There will be some people synergies as we align some back of house support, but this won’t be from day one; we will want to get to know the business first. However, the business will still be independent, will still be based out of Partridge Green and will be autonomous. Other synergies may come about as we work closer with Dark Star, but at this stage we are buying into a growing brewery with a wonderful, irreverent culture which must remain intact.”
Mark Wingett, MCA’s editor at large, said that with every “big company buys smaller business” story there is an inevitable backlash, something usually multiplied when craft beer is involved, and Cuthbertson expects no different from this deal.
Cuthbertson said: “There will always be a group that will lash out at any move such as this. The truth is, having always tried to grow the business on a mixture of cash, director loans and selling things like our motorbikes, to look at further expansion we considered bank lending and we looked at a Dark Star Crowd Funding Platform, but neither appealed for a number of reasons. When the Fuller’s conversation came into the mix, it was a no brainer - a great brewery, with a great reputation and really great people with beer at their core - they got what we are about instantly.
“Their investment and partnership will allow us to brew more one-off interesting beers than in our history this year and beyond and their professional backbone and experience will help us make sure that every pint of Hophead etc will be the very best it can be - I’m not sure a backlash is warranted.”
- For more on this story visit the MCA website.