Business profile: the Liberation Group

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Award winning: the Liberation Group won Best Food Offer at the 2019 Publican Awards
Award winning: the Liberation Group won Best Food Offer at the 2019 Publican Awards
From its conception in 2008, the Liberation Group has grown far and wide with expansion of the brand and its sites.

Liberation Group has a portfolio of venues in the Channel Islands and also operates Butcombe Brewery – a brewer and pub company in Somerset, Bristol, Bath, the Mendips and the Cotswolds that has 27 managed pubs.

The company has 116 predominantly freehold pubs located in Jersey (43 pubs), Guernsey (26 pubs) Alderney (three pubs) and the UK (44 pubs).

It also has two breweries: Liberation Brewery (Channel Islands) and Butcombe Brewery (UK) as well as three drinks distribution businesses: Victor Hugo (Jersey), Bucktrout & Co (Guernsey) and Butcombe Beer Store (UK).

Group formation

The group was formed in 2008 following a management buyout backed by Legal & General Capital, through LGV Capital headed up by a management team led by Mark Crowther.

In December 2014, the Liberation Group acquired Butcombe Brewery, which, at the time, brought together 94 venues and 750 staff. The following year, investment firm Caledonia Investments agreed to buy Liberation Group from LGV Capital for £118m.

In 2016, Butcombe announced plans to grow by up to 100 sites in the following five years.

The following year saw Jayson Perfect join the company as managing director of Pubs & Inns from his role as tenanted trade director at Palmers.

Butcombe Brewery acquired most of SA Brain’s English pubs as part of a West Country expansion in 2017 when SA Brain opted to pursue its pubs agenda within Wales.

The Butcombe business

Liberation Group reached an agreement to buy eight pubs, which made up most of SA Brain’s English operation, for an undisclosed sum.

This move expanded the Butcombe pub estate to 43 sites, and is the latest step in its strategy to become the leading West Country regional brewer and pub owner.

The same year saw Butcombe Pubs & Inns launch a bespoke apprenticeship programme across its estate.

The Butcombe Futures Academy has been established in order to offer a structured development programme for ambitious team members to progress within the business.

Strengthened portfolio

The Liberation Group made 10 acquisitions in 2017, including four pubs for £4.3m in the West Country to strengthen its Butcombe pub estate, which brought the total to 34 sites.

The group said it was buying up sites in a bid to become the leading brewery and pub estate in the region.

The four pubs in the acquisition included the Royal Oak in Prestbury, Gloucestershire; and the Quarrymans Arms in Box; the Horse & Groom Inn in Malmesbury; and the Tavern in Melksham, all in Wiltshire.

Long, hot summer

In July 2018, Liberation Group reported an 8% rise in like-for-like sales for the previous 10 weeks. The company said trading across its managed pubs had been “exceptional” over that period thanks to the warm weather and the football World Cup.

The group’s 21 managed pubs in the West Country saw a 12.9% increase in like-for-like sales, while sales at its Jersey and Guernsey sites saw uplifts of 7.7% and 5.3% respectively.

The group then announced the appointment of Nigel Osborne to chief financial officer (CFO) in October 2018 from Banner – a PE school wear provider where he worked as CFO.

When he joined Liberation, Osborne had more than 25 years’ experience in other financial roles and knows the food and drink sector well.

He previously worked for Rollover, a food service wholesaler, and Bottlegreen Drinks, a well-known soft drinks brand. Osborne started his career at the accountancy firms BDO and Deloitte.

He succeeded Declan Hearne who left the company after 10 years as finance director for the Liberation Group.

New chief executive

In January this year, the company appointed a new chief executive – Jonathan Lawson. He joined the business from GrandVision, where he served as chief executive since 2011 and succeeded current Liberation Group boss of 11 years, Mark Crowther.

Lawson’s 20 years of leisure and retail experience includes four years as managing director of Greene King’s local pubs division and other senior positions at Sainsbury’s.

Richard Grainger, executive chairman of the Liberation Group, commented: “The Liberation Group now consists of two breweries, three distribution businesses and 116 pubs across the Channel Islands and the West Country.

“Lawson’s wide-ranging executive experience across the leisure sector will enable him to drive the business onward and fulfil the board’s expectations for the group.”

Most recently, the group took home the title of Best Food Offer at The Publican Awards 2019 where it impressed judges with its high-quality food offer that also delivered on value.

The Liberation Group is part of the MA500 business club – a group for multiple operators who meet three times a year to hear insight and experience networking study tours. The next MA500 event is this month (16 May) at Manchester's Principal hotel. To register your interest please contact Stevie Robinson at fgrivr.ebovafba@jeoz.pbz​ or on 01293 846508.

Related topics: MA Leaders Club

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