Friday, 2 December 2011

The concentration of Scottish brewing (part two)

Eddie Taylor had a massive impact on British brewing in the late fifties and early sixties. He was the catalyst for a huge round of consolidation and concentration. One that ultimately gave rise to the Big Six with their stranglehold on the vast majority of pubs.

Here's how he grouped together a big chunk of Scotland's brewing industry:

"Taylor's intervention was by no means premature. In April 1960 Scottish Brewers had merged with the Newcastle Breweries Ltd. of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and this powerful group continued to strengthen its trading position in cast and central Scotland through further acquisitions. In the west of Scotland, J. & R. Tennent Ltd., a small but progressive company which brewed and sold Scotland's leading brand of lager, simultaneously acquired McLachlans Ltd. of Edinburgh, a profitable company with over 100 managed houses in Glasgow and Lanarkshire. It was clear, therefore, that a trend towards concentration was gathering speed. Taylor already had a foothold in Scotland through the inclusion of Jeffreys in Northern Breweries and in May 1960 a series of meetings was held in Edinburgh involving Taylor, P. L. Bradfer-Lawrence, D, J. Palmar, representing Northern Breweries' merchant bankers (Philip Hill, Higginson,  Erlangers Ltd.) and the directors of several Scottish breweries. Within the space of three days terms had been agreed which brought three firms (George Younger & Sons Ltd. of Alloa; John Fowler & Co. Ltd. of Prestonpans, and William Murray & Co. Ltd. of Edinburgh) into Northern Breweries. This was in itself a remarkable achievement. In the words of P. L. Bradfer-Lawrence: 'They had been talking to each other for years but Eddie's effect as a catalyst was quite astonishing.' His efforts were also assisted by the growing momentum of the merger movement in Scotland. As one brewery director put it: 'There was a growing feeling that if you didn't go in with somebody you would be left out as a very small operation.'

These early acquisitions were small, local breweries whose trade, in general, was either static or declining. George Younger of Alloa, although a public company, was still controlled by two branches of the Younger family, represented by Captain J. P. Younger (later Sir James Younger) and Viscount Younger of Leckie respectively. Much of the company's trade was concentrated in the central lowlands, where they owned 40 houses, although it also spread into the far north west. They brewed the full range of beers except lager, which they bought from J. & R. Tennent. In September 1959 they had acquired Blair & Co. of Alloa, a small local brewery with a few managed houses. William Murray & Co. owned more outlets than Youngers (although still less than 100) and had a sizeable free trade around Glasgow. Fowlers was a small private company, owning some 40 managed houses and brewing a famous strong ale called Wee Heavy. The group was strengthened by the acquisition in August, 1960, of James Aitken & Co. Ltd. of Falkirk, a company which had extensive free trade interests in the west of Scotland, together with about 50 licensed houses. Finally, in October 1960, James Calder & Co. Ltd. of Alloa were brought into the group. Calder's equity had been the subject of speculative buying in 1959 which had pushed the price up from 1s. 10d. to 8s. in the course of the year. The shares remained at this inflated level, which the directors considered 'unrealistic in the light of any reasonable estimate of the company's maintainable earnings'. Northern Breweries offered 4s. 3d, in cash for every Calder ordinary share which the directors, who in any case held over 50 per cent of the equity, readily accepted.

By the end of 1960, therefore, Taylor had formed a group of Scottish breweries which together accounted for over 20 per cent of the total beer output north of the border. The group's activities were co-ordinated by a regional management company, United Caledonian Breweries Ltd., but at this stage each constituent brewery retained its own brands and, within the board framework of the regional organization, a very large degree of operational autonomy."
"A History of Bass Charrington" by K.H. Hawkins, 1978, pages 140 - 142.

The story is a similar one that's been repeated in several countries. Once one large group forms, everyone else panics and worries about being left out. And faced with the prospect of competing with far larger rivals.

But there's a significant difference in the motivation behind buying breweries in England and in Scotland. Often English breweries were bought purely for their tied houses. In Scotland, where brewers owned few pubs, this wasn't  a prime motive. The number of pubs listed above is tiny compared to those involved in English mergers. Each of the breweries in Newark, neither particularly huge, owned around 200 pubs. About the same as mentioned above in a deal that involved 20% of Scottish brewing capacity.

I'd never realised, naive that I am, that people might have been speculatively buying brewery shares in the hope of an eventual takeover. I suppose that's how capitalism works. With the atmosphere of the day, I'm sure it was a bright move.

Of course, the group of Scottish breweries that Taylor had nailed together didn't keep its lose structure long. Or many of the breweries open, for that matter.

1 comment:

EdG said...

How did the concentration of breweries affect the availability of different types of beers? I can imagine individual brands disappearing, but did this move cause entire "styles" to be removed from the market?