Franciscan Well founder raises glass as major buys his brewery
Molson Coors has completed the first acquisition of an Irish craft beer company by a major producer in a deal reflective of the surging popularity of niche breweries.
Its purchase of the Franciscan Well brand in Cork, for an undisclosed sum, underpins the company’s desire to expand its Irish and British craft operations.
The deal includes all existing brands: the award-winning Shandon Export Stout, Friar Weisse, Blarney Blonde, Rebel Red and Rebel Lager as well as the well-known Brew Pub on the North Mall.
Molson Coors UK Ireland also plans to expand the company’s output through the establishment of an additional 150,000-keg brewery elsewhere in Cork city.
This will increase capacity, drive export of product to Britain, Canada and the US, and double employment at the brewery to 10 people.
The move points to the growing popularity of the craft beer phenomenon, which has spawned a generation of enthusiasts in recent years.
Such is the level of interest, current retail sales of craft produce in Ireland stands at €24 million and is expected to grow to €235 million over the next five years, increasing its share of the overall beer market from 0.8 per cent to 10 per cent. Molson Coors aims to capture 30 per cent of that.
‘Voyage of discovery’
Niall Phelan, director of the emerging markets and craft beer division of Molson Coors, believes traditional brands can co-exist and not threaten innovation. “There will always be a place for mainstream beers but there is a new market for people who want something a little bit different. It’s a voyage of discovery,” he said.
“There is always going to be scepticism when a big company takes over a small business [but] the ideal world is where you have a brewer who has creative control of the beers but they have the benefit of the Molson sales team and distribution.”
That’s where Shane Long comes in: the Franciscan Well Brewery founder and chairman of the Irish Craft Brewers Association will retain control of product development, a significant aspect of the parent company’s strategy in the market.
When Molson Coors bought the Sharp’s Brewery in Cornwall, which produces Doom Bar, it was left to its own devices, Mr Phelan points out. It also owns the William Worthington micro-brewery in Burton-upon-Trent which brews the award-winning White Shield.
Welcoming the successful sale of his company, Mr Long said: “I am delighted for everyone associated with Franciscan Well since 1998. This marks a new beginning for what we started together 15 years ago.
“Now, as part of a global brewer that understands and respects the craft beer movement, we have a big opportunity to build an international brand and business that we just could not have achieved on our own.”