Ringwood sales process slammed as a 'sham'

By Ed Bedington

- Last updated on GMT

Growing anger at Ringwood closure

Related tags Carlsberg Marston Brewing Ringwood brewery Beer Cask ale Finance

Carlsberg Marston’s attempts to find a buyer for the iconic Ringwood Brewery prior to announcing its closure have been branded a “sham”.

Anthony Swift, who was leading a consortium of private investors looking to keep the business open, described the decision to close the brewery as “catastrophic”.

He said the sales process was simply “abandoned” and Carlsberg Marston’s had not engaged seriously with his group, which was made up of senior and experienced business people.

“In my indicative offer, they never came back and said this was too low, they never came back and said we don’t like this term or that term, they just never came back. 

“To go through the costs of closure, the costs of making the site clear and finding an alternative use, they’d never get more than we were offering them.”

Swift, a former City corporate finance advisor,  slammed the company for “neglecting” the business - closing down brewery tours and stopping local sponsorship deals and failing to market the brands. “It was a very active supporter of community events, all of those have been cancelled. It hasn’t had a marketing manager since 2017, spend has tailed off, there’s no point of sale material and I haven’t seen a Ringwood beer glass in a pub for a long time.As a result of all that, volumes are now way, way down.”

He claimed his group had a strong and viable business plan that would return focus to the brand and aimed to double current volumes in the next three years.

“I don’t think I’ve looked at a business before and thought, well, the right business plan for this business is to turn the clock back 20 years.

“My concept was for several cornerstone investors, I didn’t want anyone owning it outright, wanted it owned by a group of people. We were going to do it through an enterprise investment scheme, so would have made shares open locally, and I think we’d have had a flood of interest.

“All of this was spelled out, and this is why I’m still baffled now that we weren’t taken more seriously, it was clear from our indicative letter that we’d given this an awful lot of thought.

“I think it’s a very unusual set of circumstances, that our kind of group, all living locally and well connected, several investors willing to invest, I think we were at the sweet spot, and for some reason or other, they were just determined to close it.”

Ringwood Brewery was established in 1978 by brewing legend Peter Austin, and went on to win the Champion Beer of Britain with Old Thumper in 1988. At its height, the brewery was producing 42,000 barrels of beer a year.

Swift is now calling on Carlsberg Marston’s to reconsider their decision and allow him and his group to restore an iconic operation back to its former glory. “I think this is the oldest microbrewery still surviving in the UK, I mean nowadays we’d call it a craft brewery and it’s been a real trailblazer. My consortium can readily be revived and I very much hope it’s not too late for this decision to be reversed.”

A spokesperson for Carlsberg Marston’s said: ““CMBC is incredibly proud to be the UK’s leading brewer of cask ale, which is a key part of our company’s heritage. We have a deep affection for Ringwood Brewery and the team, however the drop in demand for cask ale meant Ringwood has operated below capacity for many years as volumes declined, which was made worse by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Reluctantly in June, we announced our intention to sell the Ringwood Brewery and brands as a going concern. We had hoped we would be able to find a buyer who could continue Ringwood’s journey, but the incredible competitiveness of the UK beer market and the difficult economic outlook for the UK made this an incredibly challenging search. 

“As you would expect, we conducted a formal bidding process to ensure fairness and transparency. Over the past six months, despite our best efforts, we were unable to secure a workable offer, and had to conclude that there was no viable path forward for the site.

“The prolonged uncertainty surrounding the site has significantly affected our Ringwood Brewery team colleagues. It was not a decision we took lightly, but the wellbeing of our team was paramount. Continuing the bid process under such circumstances would not have been responsible.

“We will continue to brew the Ringwood brands within the CMBC network, carrying forward the brewery’s proud legacy.”

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