The turbulence in the UK beer market over the last 12 months or so has seen a number of changes in ownership and partnership agreements. The latest of these will see Heineken, the Dutch brewing group, take control of the sales, marketing and distribution of its brands in the UK for the first time.
The acquisition of both the Whitbread and Bass businesses by Interbrew, and the eventual disposal of much of the business on the orders of the competition authorities, led to a shake-up in the way beer was distributed in the UK, with rival brands such as Heineken and Stella Artois suddenly thrown together under the same roof.
Heineken licensed its brands to Whitbread, which effectively meant that it was reliant on its arch rival Interbrew to produce and distribute its standard Heineken Cold Filtered and premium Heineken Export brands in the UK following the Belgian giant's acquisition of Whitbread in 2000. Undesirable as this situation was, it is one which Heineken has had to bear, and indeed will continue to bear until the start of next year.
However, from early 2003, Heineken will assume control of the marketing, sales and distribution of the Heineken brand, gradually phasing out sales of Heineken Cold Filtered and Heineken Export and replacing them with the premium Heineken beer which it sells in more than 170 countries worldwide.
While the decision to take the distribution and marketing in-house will deprive the Dutch group of the licensing fees it charged Whitbread, the launch of the premium Heineken brand in the UK should help bolster flagging sales there, since most of the growth in the British market is coming from the stronger premium brands. It will also put Heineken head-to-head with Interbrew's Stella Artois, the leading premium lager brand in the UK.