Monday 9 October 2023

Whatever happened to the Big Six?

In the 1970s, the Big Six totally dominated UK brewing. Yet by 2000, only Scottish Courage really remained, the rest having been gobbled up by foreign conglomerates.

Bass led the pack in market share as well as pub ownership. And were considerably larger than most of their rivals, having more than double the share of Courage.

The first cracks started to show in 1990, when Courage took over Grand Metropolitan’s breweries, the company which owned Watney and Truman. Which catapulted Courage to be only just behind Bass.

Carlsberg bought what was left of Allied breweries in 1992 and renamed themselves Carlsberg-Tetley.

In 1995, Scottish & Newcastle bought Courage to form Scottish Courage. Bringing their market share to over 25%. Not that the new company was around for long, being purchased by Heineken and Carlsberg in 2008.

Bass was purchased by Interbrew in 2000 then sold on to Molson Coors in 2002.  A year later, in 2001, Whitbread sold all its brewing assets to Interbrew as well.

In a period of just 10 years, the Big Six faded away into nothing. And left the majority of UK brewing foreign-owned. 

Big Six market share (%) 1976 - 2000
Brewery 1976 1985 1989 1990 1991 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Grand Met  13 12 11              
Courage 9 9 9 19 19          
S & N 11 10 10 10 11          
Scottish Courage           27.8 26.7 25.6 26 25.6
Bass 20 22 22 22 22 21.9 23 22 23.4  
Whitbread 13 11 12 12 12 13.5 13.8 14.2 14.5  
Interbrew                   32.3
Allied 17 13 12 12 13          
Carlsberg     1 1 1          
Carlsberg-Tetley           15.4 14.6 13.2 11.8 11.7
Guinness           6 5.7 5.7 5.6 5.5
Total Big Six 83 77 77 76 78 84.6 83.8 80.70 81.3 75.1
BLRA and breweries


Chris Pickles said...

So the 1989 Beer Orders actually led to in increase in the domination of the Big 6 and their successors.

What a disaster that was.

arnie moodenbaugh said...

An interesting line in the chart is the decrease of big-six market share over time from 83% to 75%. That suggests that (neglecting imports) independents' shares increased from 17% to 25%, a big jump. What happened there?

Anonymous said...

Chris I think the lack of a clause preventing the likes of punch taverns existing was the problem.

Anonymous said...

Big British brewing like Big British carmaking all swallowed up by foreign companies after a few decades of malaise.

Russell Gibbon said...

Succint. Gives pause for thought. Well done Ron.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the government intervene at one point to break up this monopoly? I read somewhere Thatcher's government was concerned about their dominance.

bigLurch Habercom said...

big American Brewing Chain - "What, you mean thry dont drink highly gassed refridgated bland beer here"

Brewery Manager "No sir, they drink beer that you dont need to fridge, has a taste to it and actually had care taken when brewed"

BABC - "We cant have that, get rid of it and brew what I tell you. Then we can say people arnt drinking that anymore and you can say that you had justification for getting rid of it"

BM -"But sir, it doesnt work like that here"

BABC - "It does now, do it"