London Calling - A look at Lion's purchase of Fourpure

Lion yesterday announced it has made a major play within the UK beer market this week, acquiring a 100 per cent stake in London-based Fourpure Brewing Company.

Brothers Dan and Tom Lowe – who will stay on in their respective roles of CEO and Brand Ambassador following the takeover – established Fourpure in 2013. The value of the transaction was not disclosed.

Fourpure sits on a 2km stretch in South East London known colloquially as the “Bermondsey Beer Mile,” currently home to nine breweries including The Kernel and Brew By Numbers. It recently invested £2m (A$3.56m) in a four-vessel, German-designed GEA brewhouse, as well as additional fermentation space that brings its total available capacity to 60,000hl.

The expansion means that of London’s current total of 114 breweries, it’s now the fourth largest in the city, behind Fuller’s, Camden Town and Meantime respectively.

The news of Fourpure’s acquisition won’t come as a surprise to industry spectators. The Lowe brothers have always played a straight bat with their brand, putting a great deal of focus on mainstream markets such as the UK’s largest grocery chain, Tesco.

Consumers may also not be overwhelmed to hear of the deal. Unlike some industry peers, Fourpure has not relied on building a great deal of emotional investment in its brand.

The same can’t be said of fellow London brewery Beavertown, which three weeks ago sold an undisclosed minority stake to Heineken for a reported £40 million (A$71m.)

Beavertown founder Logan Plant (son of Led Zeppelin frontman Robert) had relied on something of an anti-multinational rhetoric in the past. This apparent u-turn, coupled with consumer attachment to the brand, caused considerable backlash on social media. There was evidence of this within the industry too, with 46 of the 90 breweries booked for its Extravaganza beer festival pulling out in the wake of the deal.

Fourpure CEO Dan Lowe’s approach to the acquisition was refreshing, compared to previous takeover announcements that have often relied on reassuring consumers that nothing would change.

“We’re not going to say nothing will change,” Dan Lowe told Good Beer Hunting.

What would be the point of doing it if nothing was changing?”

Londoners are no strangers to brewery takeovers. Meantime was acquired by SAB Miller in April 2015 before being divested to Asahi only a year later, when Miller merged with industry giant AB InBev.

ABI then snapped up Camden Town Brewery in December 2015, before Denmark’s Carlsberg made its move acquiring London Fields Brewery in July 2017. As well as Beavertown, Heineken also acquired a 49 per cent stake in South London’s Brixton Brewery in November 2017.

While the niche consumer may move on from the likes of Fourpure and Beavertown – as they in turn shoot for mainstream growth – this opens up room in the market for smaller independents.

It’s not just London breweries that will look to capitalise on this either, with breweries from outside the city such as Bristol’s Moor and Manchester’s Cloudwater just two examples of outsiders opening taprooms and distribution centres in the city.

With Fourpure now nestled within a portfolio that includes Little Creatures, Panhead Custom Ales and Emerson’s, Lion will be confident it has the tools at its disposal to make a serious play within the UK craft beer market. It will be interesting to see how the multinational balances the needs of its new acquisition against increasing activity for its Little Creatures brand in this territory. All eyes will now be on Lion as it looks to position itself within the UK market.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance beer writer and photographer based in London, UK. He is the UK Editor for Good Beer Hunting.

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