The Publican is reporting that Greene King is going to subject its decision to remove the locally brewed Harvey’s Best Bitter from the Lewes Arms to an “internal review” where most expect that decision to be reversed. Though no timetable has been set, Harveys will once more be sold at the pub most likely within the next few weeks.
From the Publican article:
Adam Collett, marketing director for Greene King’s managed pubs, acknowledged his company had “underestimated the strength of feeling which led to many locals boycotting what was once a great British pub. As a result, it has lost some of its character and greatness.”
Although he defended Greene King’s right to remove the beer from the pub “and, where we choose, not to sell rival beers”, he admitted the group “did not fully appreciate its special position in Lewes as the former ‘Brewery Tap’, or take into account its history and traditions”.
Sure they did, just a simple misunderstanding. They’ve been completely belligerent and intractable throughout this episode, to say now that they just didn’t “fully appreciate” how locals felt about their local beer is more spin control. They knew exactly what they were dealing with from almost the beginning, but they believed they could outlast the boycott and they also didn’t count on the publicity the story generated. The PR backlash was so bad that it probably led to former marketing director Mark Angela leaving over his handling of what became a “public relations nightmare” and the restructuring of the managed pubs division. Collett, who replaced him, was undoubtedly tasked with fixing the Lewes problem. Naturally, Greene King denies this scenario. It was just a coincidence is what they’ll probably say. I guess Angela just wanted to spend more time with his family, that’s a common reason given by exiting executives.
Notice that even within the conciliatory reversal of position, Greene King retains the bullying language that they will do whatever they want and “where [they] choose, [will] not [
to] sell rival beers.” To me that signals a company desperately wanting to fix its negative public image but without changing its corporate culture in any meaningful way. They may have bought a clue in this particular instance, but it probably won’t help them if they face similar opposition at another location.
I’m certainly happy for the people of Lewes who fought for their local heritage. Getting a big company to see reason and be a better corporate citizen is no easy feat. It’s proof once more that sufficiently motivated groups of organized people can successfully challenge institutions, and that makes the world a slightly less depressing place. Congratulations to the Friends of the Lewes Arms. Next time I’m across the pond, I’d like to stop in the Lewes Arms and have myself a pint of Harveys.