STONEGATE ‘DYNAMIC PRICING’
The Stonegate Group, owned by the private equity firm TDR Capital, has introduced what they call ‘dynamic pricing’ (also called ‘surge pricing’) in 800 of their 4,500 pubs. The policy is mainly being applied at weekends. This is not a new tactic; they have used it previously for major sporting events (such as the 2018 and 2022 football world cups) when prices were increased by amounts ranging from 20p to £1. They are apparently displaying ‘polite notices’ which explain that the increases are to cover ‘additional requirements’ such as ‘additional bar and door staff, the use of extra cleaning and plastic pint glasses and satisfying and complying with licensing requirements’. These are nothing unusual; they are all basic regular staff duties and so you have to wonder if the purpose of this practice is simply to deter customers so that the company does not need to employ more staff to cover busy times.
In July Stonegate put a portfolio of eleven pubs in London on the market on a ‘sale and leaseback’ basis. This involved the pubs being leased back to Stonegate for 25 year terms. All of the pubs were corner sites, with a total value around £16 million.
WYCHWOOD TO CLOSE
Having closed Jennings, sold off the Eagle Brewery (Bedford) and put the Ringwood Brewery on the market, the Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company (CMBC) have now decided to close the Wychwood Brewery in Witney, Oxfordshire. CMBC say that they will continue to brew the Wychwood brands elsewhere within the group. A process of elimination means that this can only be at the original Marston’s brewery in Burton on Trent or the Banks’s plant in Wolverhampton. The closure will take advantage of a break clause in CMBC’s lease on the site in November. CMBC’s chief executive, Paul Davies, was quoted in the Propel Newsletter as saying, “By making use of the break clause in our lease for Wychwood Brewery, we can consolidate our brewing network to achieve greater efficiency and productivity, supporting ongoing investment in our people and business.” In response, CAMRA’s national chairman, Nik Antona, said, “Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company’s proposal to close Wychwood brewery in Witney this November is the latest in a growing list of casualties at the hands of global brewers. Whilst it is heartening to know that the Wychwood brand will continue in some fashion at CMBC and the iconic Brakspear Double Drop beer will live on at Banks’s, it is a great shame for Oxfordshire to lose such a classic, recognisable brewery. Fresh off the heels of closing Jennings brewery in Cumbria and selling off Ringwood brewery of Hampshire, it is worrying to see the UK’s brewing heritage slowly erode. The diminishing consumer choice at the hands of the commercial giants is of great concern.”
CMBC, of course, brew the Young’s beer brands. After the sale of the Eagle Brewery it was rumoured that production had been moved to Ringwood and then to Wychwood. Any information as to what is now to happen to them will be gratefully received.
There is a fair amount of activity to report so I will restrict it to bullet points.
- Planning permission is being sought to convert the Grade II-listed former ticket hall at Fulham Broadway Underground Station (SW6 1BY), until recently a food court, into a pub.
- Work has started on converting the former Sophisticats lap dancing club near Euston Station into a pub called the Captain Flinders, named after the explorer who is credited with naming Australia and whose remains were rediscovered during excavations for the HS2 railway nearby.
- A planning application has been submitted to turn the ground floor and basement of an office block at 11 Strand, next to Charing Cross station, into a pub. It is currently ‘pending’.
- The Hope and Champion at Extra Services (M40 junction two, Beaconsfield), believed to be the only licensed premises on a motorway services site, has been taken off the disposals list.
- Both the Coronet and the Bankers Draft have been sold and the Bankers Draft reopened immediately under new ownership.
- The appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against the refusal to allow the former TGI Friday’s site in Covent Garden to be converted into a pub is still ‘pending’.
- Two developments, the former Red Lion/Soul Store West site in Kilburn and the former Grape & Grain pub in Crystal Palace have been cancelled and the sites put up for sale.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, chairman Tim Martin recently purchased around £7 million worth of the company’s shares. Mr Martin remains the company’s largest investor with a holding of 24.65%.
Going down: the latest brewer to join in the trend for reducing a beer to 3.4% ABV, and thus qualifying for the new reduced rate of duty, is Greene King with their IPA, which they describe as their flagship. At least they said that ‘it allows us to combat some rising costs’ rather than claiming that it was what customers wanted, although they said that ‘customers still enjoy the same quality and taste and rated it just as enjoyable’.
Changes at TRG: there were rumours a few months ago that The Restaurant Group (TRG) were planning to dispose of their pubs division, Brunning & Price. B&P have however recently been turning in very good results and so TRG have decided instead to dispose of their leisure division. This includes the Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito brands.
Carlsberg lose Baltika
Carlsberg’s operation in Russia, Baltika Breweries, has been taken into the temporary management of the Russian Federal Agency for State Property Management on the orders of president Putin. Carlsberg announced in March that they intended selling Baltika and had recently found a buyer whom they did not name. The sale is now in doubt.
Somebody likes us!
Faversham based Shepherd Neame has become the official provider of beer, cider, wines, spirits and soft drinks to Millwall FC of the EFL Championship. They will operate the bars at Millwall’s stadium, The Den, in South Bermondsey. Shep’s chief executive, Jonathan Neame, said, “We are very pleased to embark on this new partnership with Millwall Football Club. The Lions have an incredibly loyal base of supporters and we look forward to introducing them to our beers and joining them in celebrating the club’s achievements during the coming season.”