By Karen Peattie

PUBS group JD Wetherspoon is to end its decades-long association with Heineken UK after announcing a new 20-year supply partnership with Budweiser Brewing Group that will begin on December 15.

Wetherspoon, which has about 70 pubs in Scotland including The Counting House and Sir John Moore in Glasgow and The Standing Order in Edinburgh, confirmed that Budweiser will become the largest beer supplier across its 860-strong estate in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Budweiser, part of the AB InBev, the world’s biggest brewer, will supply brands including Budweiser, Stella Artois, Corona, Leffe Blonde and Bud Light, as well as Bathtub Gin, Bud Light Seltzer and Mike’s Hard Seltzer, on draught and in packaged formats across every Wetherspoon pub.

Wetherspoon has also signed deals with other industry heavyweights. Draught ciders Strongbow and Strongbow Dark Fruits will be replaced by Stowford Press Apple and Stowford Press Mixed Berries, made by Westons Cider. John Smith’s bitter is being replaced by Worthington's bitter, supplied by brewer Molson Coors.

It recently agreed long-term deals with current suppliers BrewDog, Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company and Molson Coors.

The pubs operator declined to say why it was ending its 41-year association with Heineken and its predecessors, for example, Scottish and Newcastle Brewers. Its chairman Tim Martin said: “Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I will now become our biggest supplier, with new beers Budweiser, Corona and Leffe Blonde in addition to their existing products, Stella Artois and Bud Light as well as a range of bottled beers.

“We are also pleased to have agreed long-term supply deals with BrewDog, Westons Cider, Carlsberg and Molson Coors.”

He noted that Wetherspoon will continue to sell a wide range of traditional ales and craft beers from regional and micro brewers at “competitive” prices.”

Earlier this month, Wetherspoon reported that like-for-like sales were 8.9 per cent lower in the 15 weeks ended November 7 compared with the same period last year, stating that older customers – a huge part of its customer base – have become “cautious” about visiting pubs.

The company underlined the changing demographic of its audience amid the ongoing pandemic by highlighting a big rise in sales over the period of drinks favoured by younger customers, such as cocktails, vodka and rum, while reporting a notable fall in sales of traditional ales and stout.

Meanwhile, Budweiser said this new deal “demonstrates Budweiser Brewing Group’s ongoing commitment to supporting the hospitality sector in the long-term, driving growth and employment opportunities following what has been a very challenging 18 months for the industry”.

It has made notable investments at its breweries across the UK over the past year and also expanded its infrastructure to support the partnership with Wetherspoon and to accommodate growing demand for its products in the licensed hospitality sector.

Budweiser Brewing Group’s confirmed that its market share has increased significantly in 2021 and, in response to higher demand for its products, has increased its keg and trucking capacity in order to sustain the volume for the new Wetherspoon deal.

The company said measures put it in a strong position to meet demand during the busy Christmas period.

Paula Lindenberg, president of Budweiser Brewing Group, said: “Demand for our premium portfolio of beers continues to grow, and this provides us with a fantastic opportunity to invest at scale in the UK’s vibrant hospitality sector and meet the strong demand nationwide for our beers.

“At Budweiser Brewing Group, we have the perfect recipe for success across Wetherspoon pubs – we have a strong, leading portfolio that caters to evolving consumer trends, especially as people opt for more premium options post-Covid, and we have a fully integrated and experienced team that will provide high-quality, expert service to every venue.”

During the height of the pandemic, the brewer ramped up support for pubs that are often the lifeblood of many communities when it launched the “Save Pub Life” initiative to encourage locals to safeguard their pubs and saw the campaign funnel £1.5 million directly to hospitality venues when they needed it most.

This activity was further supported by the “Stella Tips” initiative to mark the reopening of pubs and restaurants in 2021 with Budweiser adding £1 to staff tips for every pint of Stella Artois sold.