Wetherspoon bars Heineken from its pubs after Irish price row

The row erupted as negotiations with Heineken’s all-powerful Irish arm went from bad to worse

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JD Wetherspoon’s outspoken founder Tim Martin yesterday barred Heineken from all of his 926 pubs, in a furious reaction to its behaviour towards one of his pubs in Ireland.

The row, which follows a similar one with Guinness brewer Diageo in the country, means he may have to roll out his planned chain of pubs in Ireland with neither Guinness nor Heineken’s Murphy’s, – the two totemic stouts.

The row erupted as negotiations with Heineken’s all-powerful Irish arm went from bad to worse, with the superbrewer apparently refusing to allow Wetherspoon to charge the prices it wants in its soon-to-be-opened Dun Laoghaire pub – only its second in the country.

The spat is being seen as a wider ruck between the global brewery giants and Wetherspoon as it begins to roll out its cheap and cheerful pubs in Ireland, a country where, with no major pub companies currently operating, all the pricing power has been with the brewers.

Earlier this year, Wetherspoon had similar issues with Diageo over serving its Guinness at its first pub in Blackrock. On that occasion, however, Mr Martin decided not to ban Diageo’s products from his huge chain.

The final straw appears to have been Heineken’s seemingly bizarre demand that Wetherspoon’s chief executive John Hutson give “personal guarantees” that he would reimburse Heineken out of his own pocket if the pub company could not afford to pay for its beers at Dun Laoghaire.

Wetherspoon’s last year posted record profits of £80m, and Mr Martin claimed he had never been asked for personal guarantees in all the 35 years he has been trading with Heineken. Mr Martin described Heineken’s actions as “unacceptable and hard to understand”.

While his company would not comment on the pricing issue, it pointed out that it had been selling beer at €3 (£2.30) a pint in Blackrock compared with an average of €5 across other Irish pubs.

As a result of the row, Heineken now faces losing £60m of annual sales in one of its most important markets.

But Wetherspoon will lose out too: not just by the lack of famous stouts in its two Irish pubs, but with the lack of Heineken’s big brands across its UK estate. These include such major brands as Fosters lager, Strongbow cider and John Smiths bitter. While the loss of those big brands will not be noticed by Camra afficionados, they are among the most popular pints.

Analysts said Mr Martin was clearly looking to set the ground rules for Ireland with the major brewers before he moves into the country in earnest. He has plans to spend €50m on new openings there, with plots already purchased in Cork and elsewhere.

As for the lack of Guinness or Murphy’s there, Mr Martin said he would be introducing some English stouts to the Irish palette, in the form of Bath Ales’ Dark Side Stout and Revisionist Craft Stout from Marstons.