Marston's bought Ryland Thompson last week as part of a long-term strategy to dramatically boost its presence in the off-trade, Marston's MD Alistair Darby has revealed.

Marston's, which makes Marston's Pedigree, Bank's and Jennings, was motivated to buy the business by the success of its subsidiary Refresh UK in premium bottled ales such as Hobgoblin and Brakspear, Darby told The Grocer.

"Refresh's success in the off-trade was one of the key reasons we were keen to buy," he said. "The acquisition effectively doubles our share of the off-trade market in this sector and the company's expertise and experience will help us grow the combined portfolio of brands," he said.

The acquisition makes Marston's the number two player in premium bottled ales in the take-home sector behind Scottish & Newcastle, according to the company.

"There has been a long-term shift to take-home in the beer market and, although it is currently dominated by lager, we believe the growth in the speciality or world beer sector is an opportunity for ale," he said.

As well as bottled ales, the focus for the future will be on increasing the canned ales business, said Darby.S&N, through its John Smith's brand, and Suffolk-based brewer Greene King still remain ahead of the combined businesses.

This is the third major acquisition for Marston's following its purchase of Jennings in 2005 and Ringwood last year.

Refresh was founded eight years ago by chief executive Rupert Thompson and is the UK's largest brewer of organic ales.

"Refresh is the number three supplier of premium bottled ales to supermarkets and Hobgoblin is one of the fastest-growing premium ales in the UK," said Thompson.

"Marston's has shown a real commitment to building an exciting range of quality premium ales. I am confident that it will provide a great home for Refresh, allowing its brands and people to develop further."