The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has sent an open letter to Lawson Mountstevens, MD of Heineken's Star Pubs & Bars, to seek assurances about its proposed deal to acquire 1,900 Punch pubs.
To: Lawson Mountstevens, MD Star Pubs & Bars
I write to you as the National Chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale, which represents more than 185,000 beer drinkers and pub users across the UK.
We note that with the only other likely bidder to acquire Punch Taverns plc having withdrawn from the process, it looks extremely likely that Heineken will end up increasing its Star Pubs & Bars pub estate from 1,100 to 3,000 pubs.
We recognise the potential positive outcome of the deal, which looks set to allow the pubs in Punch's estate to continue as going concerns. We also note your positive track record of investment into improving the pubs it currently owns.
However we are concerned that the proposed acquisition could lead to a lessening of competition in the on-trade beer market and therefore a reduction in choice, not only for our members but for the many millions of beer drinkers and pub goers across the country.
We note that Heineken already has an existing market share of 24 per cent in the on-trade and has a declared policy of restricting the access of competitors to the pubs that they own.
CAMRA is concerned that the effect of the planned takeover of these Punch Tavern pubs has the potential to be considerably detrimental to the interests of customers. We believe that customers are likely to not only experience reduced choice in the range of cask beer from small and regional breweries in pubs owned by Heineken but also in the wider market, as it becomes harder for new brewers to emerge and for existing brewers to increase the availability of their products.
I'd invite you to reassure myself and CAMRA members, as well as all beer drinkers and pub users across the UK, by giving unqualified assurances that you will ensure that the provision of the kind of choice that currently exists in Punch Taverns pubs will remain a priority for you if your company's acquisition is successful.
In particular, I'd invite you to provide answers to these questions:
We appreciate that you are bound by the regulations and conventions that govern takeovers, but would invite you to be open and transparent about your intentions ahead of the decision by Punch Taverns shareholders on 10th February.
CAMRA National Chairman