What’s next for St Austell after its two big new recruits?

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Standing down: James Staughton (pictured) will be replaced as St Austell CEO by Kevin Georgel
Standing down: James Staughton (pictured) will be replaced as St Austell CEO by Kevin Georgel
Family-owned south-west pubco and brewing heavyweight St Austell has drawn attention to itself with two big appointments in as many months, leading some to enquire about its future intentions.

In March, St Austell’s Bath Ales brand took on former Fuller’s head brewer​ Georgina Young, while this month it was announced Admiral boss Kevin Georgel would succeed James Staughton as St Austell’s CEO​ next year.

More than 170 properties form the pubco’s portfolio, which are comprised of various tenancy and management models.

Last year, a £15m plan to expand the pubco’s portfolio was announced, which, supported by a revolving credit facility from HSBC, would allow St Austell to gain further ground in the south-west.

At the time, St Austell finance director and company secretary Colin Stratton said: “We have a very carefully considered acquisition strategy… and look forward to drawing on the funding when the right opportunities arise.”

Following the £15m credit, St Austell made its first acquisition since 2016 when it bought city centre Bath pub the Griffin Inn for an undisclosed sum. Before this, St Austell had acquired beer brand Bath Ales.

The new venue took the estate to 179 outlets,​ including a portfolio of 147 tenanted sites, at the time.

Since the Griffin’s purchase, St Austell has seldom dipped into its multimillion-pound reserves, which could change when Georgel takes the business’s reins.

And indeed, there are plans to grow the estate further, according to Staughton, who told The Morning Advertiser ​(MA​): “HSBC’s funding is there to draw on if, and when, the right pub opportunities arise.”

Nothing spent yet

Staughton added: “We haven’t spent any of the funding to date, however, it will allow the business to increase investment over the next few years, helping to drive new strategic pub and hotel acquisitions.”

There are ambitions within the company to significantly increase the number of venues, he added.

“Our aim continues to be expanding our 177-strong pub estate, primarily across our south-west heartland.

“While there’s no specific target, and our focus remains on quality not quantity, it’s always been an ambition to grow our estate to around 200 pubs.

“Our new distribution centre in Wimborne will be instrumental in allowing us to expand into new West Country territories, should the right pub opportunities arise.”

Meanwhile, outgoing Admiral boss Georgel stepped into his current role from Punch Tavern’s leased arm in 2010,​ replacing then boss Lynee D’Arcy.

Georgel, who has been a non-executive director of St Austell for some years, said of his appointment: “I have known and admired St Austell Brewery, and more recently Bath Ales, for a long time.”

“As a non-executive director, I have developed a deeper understanding and appreciation of the business, its people and customers and I am thrilled to have been asked to succeed James in 2020.

“I am enormously conscious and respectful of the values and history of this great company and feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to join the business at this exciting time.”

Step down as CEO

Staughton, who is 60 and will step down as CEO after 40 years at the business, told The MA​: “As an independent, family-owned company, with a growing pub estate and successful national sales and wholesale divisions, we’re continuing to invest in the business and build on our vision for the future. We’re here for the long term.”

From the brewery, there are more than 10 key brands underpinning a range of draught, packaged and seasonal ales, lagers and beers.

Headline brands include Tribute, Proper Job and Cornish lager Korev, while Bath Ale brands include Gem and Sulis Lager.

But with the likes of similar business Fuller’s shifting ownership of its brewing arm to Asahi earlier this year, questions are being raised about the future of family-owned brewcos.

“Our brand story and commitment to remaining a unified pub, brewing and wholesale business is more important than ever to ensuring our future success and making the St Austell family group stronger than, and distinct from, our competitors,” said Staughton.

“With Georgina Young having recently been appointed head brewer for our Bath Ales operation and Roger Ryman (brewing director) continuing to oversee our sites in Bath and Cornwall, we’re more excited than ever about the future of our brewing division.”

Although, like every other brewco out there, St Austell faces challenges in the future, including rising fees and increasing competition.

“One of the biggest challenges is rising industry costs, which continues to put pressure on our margins,” said Staughton.

“The beer industry has also become an increasingly competitive market in recent years, making innovation and delivering continued excellence even more crucial, to excite consumers and stand out from our competitors.”

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