Whitbread may lose its licence agreement with Heineken to place the Dutch brewer's core brand in its UK pub chain.

Industry sources say Heineken has "lost patience" with Whitbread's handling of the brand and "unhappy with the sales figures" generated by Whitbread's retail chains. This is the reason for Whitbread's sudden launch of its new GB lager brand to replace Heineken if the contract is not renewed, sources say.

A Whitbread spokesman said: "We never talk about our outside business arrangements. I can not comment on whether any re-negotiations with Heineken are taking place." Whitbread's decision to begin marketing a new brand was "to bridge the gap in the company's portfolio for a standard lager," he said. "No-one has yet branded the key element of Britishness and it has one of the most amazing bar-tops. It is very exciting," he added.

GB will have an 4% abv, above Heineken Cold Filter's 3.5% abv, and will be priced "competitively" within the standard lager range. Cold Filter is brewed exclusively for the UK market.

A Heineken spokesman reiterated Whitbread's stance that external agreements remain private. "This is all pure speculation," he said. What surprises some analysts, however, is the timing. With rumours of a possible demerger of its beer interests and, allegedly, investment bank Dresden Kleinwort Benson now searching for buyers, why would Whitbread wish to launch a lager into an already saturated market. "Whitbread definitely needs a brand in this sector, but it does seem like diversionary tactics from the bigger picture," said an analyst from a US investment bank.

DKB has refused to deny or confirm its involvement. Whitbread Beer Company has been priced at £400m but many in the industry believe this is far too high. Estimates are its true worth is no more than £150m.

Elliot Lane, Managing Editor, just-drinks.com