Magazine article Management Today

Changes A-Brewing

Magazine article Management Today

Changes A-Brewing

Article excerpt

Southwold brewer Adnams is proud of its past but has just invested pounds 10m in its future, including a state-of-the-art brewhouse. A plc with strong family input, it has its own way of doing things, from a quietly profitable green strategy to a new product it hopes will reach the parts other real ales don't. Andrew Saunders reports.

They like to do things differently at Adnams. That much is plain as soon as you arrive at its picturesque Southwold, Suffolk, base, where the mellow yellow brick of the famous brewery contrasts with the white-painted wood of the landlocked lighthouse - and the slow, grey rollers of the North Sea break on the shore of the bay a hundred metres away.

There is no shiny office block, no towering atrium and, best of all, no surly security staff. Just a modest reception area and a ready smile and cheery hello. It's refreshingly straightforward and makes a wonderful first impression. This, one immediately feels, is a place where people rather than processes predominate.

Chairman Jonathan Adnams is equally far from the corporate archetype. In jeans and puffa waistcoat, he's dressed for the outdoors, not the boardroom; lean and weatherbeaten, he looks every inch the keen sailor that he is. Until quite recently he was a member of the local lifeboat crew, and when the maroon went up, he had to answer the call Unpredictable departures from even the most important meetings were not unknown; visitors abandoned in this way must have felt nonplussed.

Back on dry land, his other passion is brewing. His family has been producing some of the country's finest traditional cask (or 'real') ales in Southwold since 1872, but he is clearly not one to rest on his laurels. The firm's brand-new pounds 4m brewhouse is his pride and joy, the culmination of a five-year renewal programme, replacing equipment from the 1970s and earlier with the latest in computerised beer gear. 'It's good to have roots, but value comes from what you are going to do in future rather than what your ancestors did in the past,' he says.

Impressively high-tech to look at, the new plant is highly efficient and requires minimal human intervention - it even switches itself on in the morning, giving the staff a bit of a lie-in. Nonetheless, an early start is called for on days when there's a brew to put in. 'I was up at six this morning playing with our new brewhouse,' he grins, adding that he has been trying to keep out of it till the staff get to grips with their new toy. 'They don't want me hanging about while they are trying to learn to drive it, do they?' Judging from his barely restrained enthusiasm, they must all be used to dealing with a certain amount of 'advice' from the chairman, anyway.

Adnams is small - last year it made just over pounds 4m on a turnover of pounds 46m, and its shares trade on the tiddlers' Plus Markets index (previously known as Ofex). But there aren't many FTSE bosses who take the kind of knowledgeable delight in the bread-and-butter of their business that Jonathan Adnams does. He's passionate about quality and consistency - whether it be the famous Adnams' The Bitter, the stronger Broadside ale or one of its numerous seasonal specials like Oyster Stout, Regatta or Tally Ho - and thinks that the enormous variation in the quality of some of the other products on the market is killing the trade.

'Anyone can be a brewer, but doing it well and consistently is much more difficult,' he says. 'There are a lot of badly brewed and kept ales out there. There's no reason why customers should get a bad-tasting pint of cask ale, but they do. We try very hard to avoid that.'

The new equipment has helped secure Adnams' position as an industry leader, he adds. 'We used to get less than 1% of our barrels returned because the beer was spoiled,' he says. 'But now we are down to less than 0.1%.'

The business - it also includes a high-end wine merchant, a retail arm, a select estate of 80-odd 'character' pubs and the two best hotels in Southwold - has been making the news for more than its beer. …

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