Davenport direct

27 June, 2008

Latest brewing battle could create an even more precarious situation for the business of beer in the UK

The ink is barely dry on the deal which will see bar counters and beer aisles painted Heineken green and the historic loss of S&N, the country's last major brewer - but the stage looks set for another significant beer battle.

This time it's Inbev on the prowl, the brewer at the centre of the last big shake-up in British brewing when it seized both Bass and Whitbread in 2000. At least then the market was fairly robust, but today's beer sales point to a worsening crisis.

While Inbev's hopes of merging with American Budweiser could provide some stability globally, given the precarious backdrop it could signal more problems for beer here - at least in the short term. Beyond the nitty-gritty of the deal itself, the practicalities of merging the cultures and working practices of radically different companies has been a struggle for Inbev in the past and has taken some of its attention away from the real business in hand - building brands. And you couldn't find two more contrasting models than Inbev's obsessive cost-cutting and Budweiser's unswerving marketing focus.

Who knows, things might be different under Inbev's new MD Stuart MacFarlane - he certainly has the air of a man with his hands firmly on the

tiller. But right now he has other priorities trying to lead Stella Artois, take-home's biggest cash cow, to pastures new with a major launch - and the first real test of his presidency.

Growth brands offer helping hand

If at first you don't succeed, destroy all evidence you tried,

the saying goes. No such luck for brand owners, who lose any anonymity the second they sign those multi-million pound marketing cheques.

Today's tough retail environment is certainly no longer the fertile ground it was for the have-a-go heroes of the past - not necessarily a bad thing when you consider the likes of Magma, luminous orange lava bottled a few years ago by Allied Domecq.

Product development had to become more targeted, not least because regulation demanded it.

As a consequence, the process of choosing the horses to back has simplified, and for lots of retailers it's a question of cherry-picking from the list of top-selling names to suit their clientele, while throwing in a few surprises. In this issue we also offer a slightly different perspective - though no less scientific - with a look at the 25 fastest growing brands.

They won't resonate with every outlet, but in some cases might just help stores get closer to what their customers actually want - and there's nothing more crucial than that right now.

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English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

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