Friday, 11 September 2015

Flowers Breweries Ltd. (part one)

I’m returning to Flowers. Mostly because I found a great article about their acquisition by J.W. Green of Luton.

But I’ve a deeper reason, too. Because it demonstrates something about the process of amalgamation which left the UK with seven large brewing groups (the Big Six) dominating the industry. It was by no means a foregone conclusion who would triumph and some of the early frontrunners ended up as fodder. Flowers is a good example of the latter.

When J.W. Green bought Flower & Sons in 1954, it created a substantial group, one of the largest in the country. Here are some details:

£10m Brewery Centre
Plans For "Importing” Flower’s Bitter Beer
LUTON will be the headquarters of a new £10,000,000 brewery group as a result of the merging of J. W. Green, Ltd., the Luton brewers, and Flower and Sons, of Stratford-on-Avon.

Terms of the merger announced this week show that the deal will be on a share exchange basis. It is also proposed to change the name of the J. W. Green Group of companies to Flowers Breweries, Ltd., but the Luton brewery will retain its identity as J. W. Green, Ltd.

The terms are to come before an extraordinary general meeting of the two companies later this month.

The Luton Brewery controls about 1,100 licensed houses, and Flowers some 400.

In the letter of offer sent to shareholders, the chairman J. W. Green, Ltd., Mr. Bernard Dixon, says that the Luton Brewery is now working to full capacity, and further extensions now would be extremely costly. Flowers Brewery, he states, is particularly well equipped, and has ample capacity for development without major expense. About £500,000 has been spent on the brewery since the war.

Since 1948 J. W. Green. Ltd. has acquired seven breweries in different parts of the country, and the merger will create one of the biggest units in the brewing industry.

Well-known brands of bottled beers from Luton will be sent further afield. and Flowers famous bitter will be “imported" into this area. Subsidiary companies of the group will gradually lose their identity.”
Luton News and Bedfordshire Chronicle - Thursday 04 March 1954, page 9.

1,500 pubs would have been one of the largest estates at the time.  And when Whitbread got their hands on them, it formed a sizeable part of their estate. This should put that number into some context:

UK pub ownership 1974 - 1989
Bewery UK Breweries % beer sales On Licences (1974) % On Licences On Licences (1989)
Bass Charrington 12 20 9,256 8.15% 7,300
Allied Breweries 7 17 7,665 6.75% 6,000
Whitbread 19 13 7,865 6.92% 6,500
Watney/Grand Met 8 12 5,946 5.23% 6,100
Scottish & Newcastle 3 11 1,678 1.48% 2,300
Courage 8 9 5,921 5.21% 5,100
Guinness 1 9 0 0 0
Total Big Seven 58 91 38,331 33.7% 33,300
Others 89 9 13,800 12.1%
Tied Trade 52,131 45.9%
Free Trade 61,498 54.1%
Total 147 100 113,629
“The Brewing Industry, a Guide to Historical Records” by Lesley Richmond & Alison Turton.
No. breweries and % beer sales 1976
No. on licences 1974

The total number of on licences in the table is a bit deceptive as it includes restaurants and clubs as well as pubs. In 1974 the number of pub licences in the UK was 70,495*.

Building a pub estate was what it was all about back then. About the only way to realistically increase sales was to acquire more tied houses. As most pubs were owned by breweries, buying breweries was the simplest way get hold of more.

Often the brewery itself wasn’t required and was quickly closed. Which wasn’t the case here. It sounds as if J.W. Green was having capacity problems and Flowers nice, modern brewery would come in handy.

I suspect Flowers may have had a better reputation than J.W. Green. Why else call the combined company Flowers Breweries Ltd.? That Flowers Bitter was to be sold in Green’s other houses implies it had a good name.

Too much goodness in the article – and too much other Flowers and J.W. Green stuff – for a single post. Next time some more details of the merger and of the other breweries absorbed into the group. Plus its eventual fate.

* 2011 Statistical Handbook of the BBPA, page 74.


Barm said...

Is Green’s of Luton what eventually became Interbrew’s HQ?

Ron Pattinson said...


I've no idea. Was it at the new or old brewery?

Jeremy Drew said...

I don't know if there is a connection to Interbrew, but Whitbread's corporate offices are still in the town.

The short-lived megakeg brewery in Oakley Road has been redeveloped with an Asda and housing

The old brewery site is now, amongst other things, the Crown Court building. The original JW Green company plaque is on the wall at B&T in Shefford.

Martyn Cornell said...

The new Whitbread brewery was in Oakley Road, Luton, it opened in 1969 and closed in 1984. Whitbread still has offices in Oakley Road, although the main HQ is now in neighbouring Dunstable. When Whitbread still brewed, its last brewing HQ was at Porter Tun House (the reason for that name ought to be obvious), on the Capability Green business park in Luton, and when InBev acquired Whitbread's brewing assets it also took over the Porter Tun House offices, where it still is. By an interesting coindidence, Capability Green was built by a man called Nicholas Phillips, whose father Harold had owned Phillips' brewery in Royston, Herts, taken over by JW Green in 1949.