Has Fuller's sold up or sold out? - just-drinks thinks

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"Immortalised in the name of one of our famous ales, 1845 is a year that will forever be Fuller's," reads the website of the owner of the London Pride beer brand. "It was then that the partnership papers of Fuller, Smith & Turner were officially signed, marking the start of something very special for London's brewery scene."

Fullers will retain its pub and hotel business

Fuller's will retain its pub and hotel business

In that case, does 2019 mark an altogether different feeling for London's brewery scene, as Fuller's agrees to sell its beer business, including the famous Griffin brewery, to Japanese mega-company Asahi Group?

While consolidation in the beer industry is nothing new, the fact that Fuller's – and its Griffin brewery – is the target comes as a surprise. Indeed, in its latest annual report, the company describes the brewery site as its "Chiswick heart".

Trade organisation CAMRA was quick to express concern, highlighting that "Fuller's has been a family brewer in Britain for more than a hundred years, and it's a very sad day to see such a well-known, historic and respected name exit the brewing business". CAMRA was moved to call on Asahi to "pledge to continue brewing operations at the Chiswick site"; a site analysts have speculated is a prime real estate development opportunity in west London.

However, Fuller's has maintained that Asahi is the "ideal owner" of its beer division and will "create the right environment for the beer business to flourish in the future and protect the Fuller's brewing heritage". As part of a statement today, Fuller's also said that "Asahi... intends to continue brewing on the site". 

More broadly, the deal is no surprise at all. For the last couple of years, Asahi has been vocal about its intentions to build on its European operations. In 2016, the company opened a European unit, following the acquisition of SABMiller brands Peroni, Grolsch and London brewery Meantime in the shakeout of Anheuser-Busch InBev's purchase of SAB.

So far, Meantime's Greenwich site continues to welcome brewery visitors, many of whom are probably unaware/unconcerned about who owns the taps.

Perhaps the question around selling up or selling out is, in a weird way, not really down to Fuller's. If Asahi keeps the Griffin brewery open, consumers will surely continue to visit in their droves - and the question of who owns what, for most consumers, becomes irrelevant. After all, how many drinkers know who owns Guinness?

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