Morland, the second oldest brewer in the country, yesterday announced the acquisition of the Ruddles, the Rutland-based brewer, for pounds 4.8m from Grolsch, the Dutch brewing group.
The deal should save Ruddles and its beers, such as Ruddles County and Best Bitter, which had appeared to be in terminal decline.
Ruddles has had a troubled history over the last few decades in the hands of a succession of big brewers. Grolsch was believed to have paid well in excess of pounds 30m for Ruddles when it bought the business from Courage five years ago. But sales of its beers have been sliding in the last few years despite a multi-million pound marketing campaign.
Mike Watts, Morland's chief executive, said: "Ruddles has come home to a regional brewer at last. The brands have lost their way. A lot of money has been thrown at them with little success by a succession of big brewers who were probably more concerned with lager."
Morland is also looking to launch a fresh marketing campaign to revamp Ruddles in the UK, specifically designed to boost sales in off-licences and supermarkets. The group also hopes to export Ruddles around the world, complementing its Old Speckled Hen brand which is currently sold in 17 countries.
However, a question mark hangs over the future of the Ruddles brewery, founded by the Ruddles family in 1858. Morland is conducting a review of the business and may close the brewery with the loss of 100 jobs and shift production to its own brewing headquarters at Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Ruddles brewery is currently only producing around 100,000 barrels a year compared to an output capacity of 300,000 barrels.
The acquisition marks the latest stage in the rationalisation of the regional brewing industry. Many of the smaller players have been forced to exit brewing, unable to compete with the larger players who have the resources to launch huge advertising campaigns. Eldridge Pope recently sold its brewery to a management buyout team and Ushers has taken over Gibbs Mew's brewing operations.
Despite this, Mr Watts denies that the days of the regional brewer are over. "Brewers with non recognised brands will continue to find life more difficult. However, with more regional brewers exiting brewing and the big brewers concentrating on bigger brands there are more holes in the market. There is room for niche brands."
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