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Cambridge & District CAMRA

Greene King Take Over Ridley's

On the 4th July Greene King announced its takeover of Ridley's Brewery for £46m (including £8.8m debt). Greene King says it intends to close the brewery in the autumn, with some beer brands transferred to Greene King's Bury St Edmunds brewery. The deal includes Ridley's 73 pubs across Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk & Cambridgeshire, including The Alma in Cambridge.
Nationally CAMRA is calling for a Competition Commission investigation as this deal threatens consumer choice as Greene King's dominance in the East of England grows.

This acquisition appears to be GK's response to rival brewery Wolverhampton and Dudley's takeover of Jennings in June. A new generation of national brewers has been created and is a threat to consumer choice. Takeovers rarely lead to benefits for consumers and invariably lead to erosion of consumer choice, breweries closing and beers being axed.

Greene King and W&D would have been defined as national brewers (ones with more than 2,000 pubs) under the 1989 Beer Orders legislation, which was revoked in 2002. That legislation forced national brewers to allow their pub tenants a guest beer from a supplier of their choice. Greene King's guest beer offering is to permit those tenants who choose to pay top-whack in rent to then choose from GK's list of approved non-GK beers.

CAMRA believes that demand exists for breweries which specialise in short-run craft beers, following renewed consumer interest in local products. Ridleys has been brewing Tolly Original since 2002, brews Greene King XX Mild under contract and brews Pale Island for Kelham Island Brewery, current holders of the Champion Beer of Britain Award for Pale Rider.

It's surprising that GK are rushing to transfer production to their Bury St Edmunds brewery as they have been saying production there is almost at capacity.

Locally CAMRA is particularly concerned about the loss of the popular Greene King XX Dark Mild. GK decided it could not make it economically any more in 2003 and contracted it out to Ridley's, who had recently stopped making their own Mild in favour of recreating Tolly Mild.

What will happen to popular beers such as Greene King XX Mild, Tolly Original and the top Ridleys beer, Old Bob? Greene King has already announced it will cease brewing Ridleys IPA as it clashes with its own award-winning IPA. Initial plans are to brew at least four Ridley's brands on a rotational basis.

Surprisingly, GK says it will resume brewing XX Dark Mild, as volumes have risen since GK acquired many Laurel pubs around Christmas 2004.

Greene King closed Rayments brewery at Furneux Pelham in 1987, Biggleswade in 1997 and Morlands in 2000. Now it's likely to sell Ridley's remarkable Victorian brewery site for housing development, rather than at least attempt to sell it to someone as a going concern.

About Ridley's

The 163-year-old family brewery is at Hartford end, near Chelmsford.

Ridleys acquired and closed the Tolly Cobbold Brewery in Ipswich in 2002, transferring some of the beer brands to its brewery.

CAMRA has hit out at comments from Ridley's Managing Director, Bob Wales, who was appointed in April 2005. Following his appointment, Mr. Wales said, "The Board and I are delighted with this announcement and look forward to the Ridleys business growing and developing. Ridleys is a good business with some excellent and dedicated people at the Hartford End Brewery site..." CAMRA wonders what has changed in a couple of months?

Apparently a Ridley's spokesman blamed "the national decline in cask sales" - that old chestnut, based on inaccurate statistics and including the poorly-supported beers from the international breweries.

In a letter to Ridley's Free Trade customers, Greene King explained that Ridley's approached GK about a possible takeover, assuming closure of the brewery due to it being loss-making.