Moon under Water

Good beers, in great places, since forever.

Most Dutch Bars are tied to the Four Big Brewers

4 Nov 2011, 00:20 -- John

It'll come as no shock to most people who have been to a bar in The Netherlands that they are seriously dominated by the worlds three largest brewers Heineken, Grolsch (SAB Miller), InBev (Anheuser-Busch InBev) and Bavaria. A recent report for KHN by EIM underlined this. Most of the reporting has focused on the fact that the big breweries use the tie to push up the price of beer, a lot of the report is focused on the profit, or lack of it, for the bar owners. KHN is the organisation for hotels, restaurants and cafes (horeca in Dutch - I'll use this later). However, the report also shows that it's not only the price of beer that is affected. What of the choice of beer? Choice that isn't brewed by the big four?

99% of cafes with a cellar system serve one of the major brewers pils.
90% of cafes have one of the four big brewers as their main supplier.

The most common tie comes with the tap installation for draught beer. Two thirds of all taps are owned by a brewery. But that isn't too bad? It's the normal understanding that the tap installation is the brewery's, but there is only a requirement to sell their pils, and maybe some other beer. Sometimes it's not even in the contract that it's a particular pils from the brewery's range. So it's not too bad for choice?

Even if you can have other beer on tap, it is not necessarily the case that you can promote it. There are often targets for how much of the big brewery's products you sell. Not only that, but how you advertise them.

The tap is not the only tie. 1 in 4 horeca with a tap tie also have another tie, for example 10% have a loan from the brewery, this comes with strings attached - naturally. Then there are the one in six who don't have a tap tie but actually rent the building from the brewery (or one of their subsidiaries). They have even stricter rules. Then it's not just us, the customer, who aren't happy, the bar 'owner' is the least satisfied of horeca owners with their relationship with the brewery.

With and without a tie, only 41.5% of drinks horeca are completely free to make their own selection of the range of other products. So not just pils tie, but all the beer, juice, wine and spirits. Almost 20% are described as strong or very strongly tied for their choice of range. Of course once told what to sell, similar percentages of cafes, bars, restaurants, nightclubs are told how to sell them, how to advertise them, and how much to charge for them.

I'm not so old, but the old nightmare of CAMRA members of the 70s rears it's head in the report: the cellar tank (kelderbier) installation.
Yes, fizzy, flavourless pils delivered by tanker from one of the big brewers. 82% of bars that opted for that are tied to a brewery.

Obviously the system does have it's plus points. Rather than the domination of managed houses most Dutch cafes are small, or very small,
businesses. 97% of them have less than 10 paid employees. Setting up and keeping a bar is a large investment. That there are more tied cafes in prime locations is equally no surprise. Someone has to pay.

But do I have to pay, by having such a crap choice of beer in so many places?


Submitted by John on

So I ended up at the Ponteneur today. A day after writing the article above the terrible selection of beer was all the more apparent. It's never been a beer bar. It's a place we've often ended up for their pretty decent food (not just because it's a minute walk from the Brouwerij 't IJ). In the past the only guest bottle - Ij Zatte - didn't run out. But it wasn't the complete lack of choice that got me it was the noticeable and incongruous standardised beer promotions. The huge adverts for the bock selection, which is Brand or Amstel (both Heineken), the standardised beer menus which don't even mention there might be a 'guest' beer, let alone what it is - which is fine as it wasn't available, yet again.

The research above suggested that beer bars were a more important outlet for the big brewers beer. So my question is: where are the good eetcafe's that have a selection of beers off the standard brewers distribution list?

Submitted by John on

In the NRC, Heineken have announced they would like to restrict their roll as horeca financieer. According to the article Heineken have around €40 million lent out to their biggest debtors, from the EIM research above they have loans to 1 in 13 horeca and own outright 180. This they would like to 'restrict' in principle to 'zero'. Their spokesperson thinks that it is the banks roll to lend out money now.

This is no doubt good news, but I'm willing to bet - on pain of having to drink a Heineken - that it won't change the real restriction on choice which they maintain through the more complex forms of tie described above.

Submitted by John on

Today PINT released a press release saying much the same in relation to the moves made by Heineken. They see it as a step in the right direction, but not far enough. Nothing about the tap installations and rental of other brewery property.

They also promote their petition again, but it sadly focuses on the price, not the diversity and access for smaller brewers.

Another step in the right direction I guess :-)