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Bedford's Eagle Brewery gets a make-over: and new owner Marston's is on course to grow the business,


Marston's puts its stamp on Charles Wells brewing acquisition

The Eagle Brewery in Bedford, today part of Marston’s British brewing empire after it acquired the plant from Charles Wells in May 2017 for £55 million, has a new look and a new outlook on the local community.

And the new look, as pictured here, is a far cry from the dated traditional 1970’s branding associated with both the brewery and local brand Eagle IPA, with the beer’s associated rebranding in the offing.

The promotion of the Eagle name to prominence fills the need for umbrella branding around the brewery’s varied beer brands, noted Marston’s senior marketing manager Paul Freeman.

“This site has always been called the Eagle Brewery throughout its 41 year history and this feels like an obvious thing to come back to when you’re looking at a name for the brewery now that Charles Wells is no longer appropriate for the brewery itself,” said Freeman.

“That felt like a very nice place to come back to and adopt that as our umbrella brands for new and interesting beers that are brewed out of this site.”

The prominence given to the Eagle name also allows for the brewery to become more of a focal point for the local Bedford community. There’s a new taproom converted from existing space, a brewery shop and visitor centre.

The community-facing initiatives are consistent with those of other breweries in the Marston’s network such as Ringwood and Jennings, noted Freeman.

“We’ve been here for 40 years but actually only now have the local community been able to come in unassisted, without booking through a trade customer or a particular employee that they know to come in and see what brewery life is like and experience it first-hand.

“And that really fits with the Marston’s strategy. Six breweries that we operate around the UK, each and every one of those is absolutely integrated within its local community and that’s where the investment in this place is really relevant to the people in the town of Bedford. It’s here for them.”

The arrival of the Eagle branding touches on issues of the brewery’s brand portfolio and operational abilities. It will continue to produce a diverse range of beers – including the Young’s portfolio that had previously been acquired by Charles Wells. To date here haven’t been any brand delistings per se, save for some pack formats or serving sizes. 

What hasn’t happened as yet is Marston’s making use of Eagle Brewery’s excess capacity for brewing non-Eagle beers in its burgeoning portfolio. At one time the brewery was home for numerous contract brewed beers such as Cobra and Red Stripe with it then a 24/7 operation. (Kirin Ichiban remains happily ensconced in Bedford.)

“I think that’s one thing that Marston’s found particularly attractive about the place, the capacity,” said Freeman. “There are other beers we can package here; the canning facility here is pretty special. It opens much bigger opportunities for other Marston’s brands so there will be other beers within the portfolio that are packaged here.”

The brewery today operates on a 24/5 production schedule with the first mashing in at 10pm on a Sunday night and the last late on a Thursday. The brewery operates two brew streams ideally at 150 barrels each; the production target is six brews per stream per day.

There are four yeast strains in use. Malt is split largely between Venture and traditional Maris Otter varieties, with Muntons and Simpsons the main suppliers.

As for small pack capabilities, the Eagle Brewery site is home to both a bottling and canning line. These two are operated as the brewery, from 10 pm on a Sunday through 7 pm on the following Friday. At the moment only one line is operational at a time, with a seven-person team moving between the two. Of course, as requirements change, it could be that both lines are simultaneously operational.

The bottling line is rated at 19,000 bottles per hour. It can handle four sizes – 275, 330, 500 and 670 ml bottles – and 8, 12 and 24 bottle packaging formats. Almost 100% of its time is dedicated to beers brewed at Eagle.

The can line differs in this respect with contract packaging undertaken on behalf of other brewers. It’s rated at 700-750 cans per minute and can handle 330, 440 and 500 ml sizes. No printing is done on-site; cans are brought in from Can-Pack UK of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.

There’s much more news yet to come from Bedford as Marston’s moves to make the most of its new asset. But for now its plan resembles that for its other acquisitions – improve the fortunes of the existing brand portfolio and make it more of a focal point for the local community. And that’s a good start.

Larry Nelson
23rd January 2018

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