Heineken has hinted it will keep Scottish & Newcastle's famous Newcastle Brown Ale - but may sideline Kronenbourg 1664 if its joint acquisition with Carlsberg of the company goes through.
The publication of the official recommendation this week for S&N shareholders to accept the offer lists "strong, complementary brands with international appeal and potential" as a key commercial benefit in the acquisition of S&N's UK assets by the Dutch brewer.
Newcastle Brown Ale, along with Foster's and Strongbow cider, are named as brands that fit the bill for Heineken. Kronenbourg 1664, S&N's main premium lager, is not named, supporting expectations it will be sidelined in favour of Heineken's core brand. There had been speculation that Newcastle Brown, along with other ale brands, could be offloaded by Heineken because of the Dutch company's international focus on lager. But Newcastle Brown's strength in the US makes it attractive to Heineken.
The boost for Newcastle Brown comes as S&N handed UK marketing rights to the brand to a new company, Jygsaw, headed by former S&N director Simon Brown.
S&N and Jygsaw have also set up a joint venture, Heritage Drinks, to handle sales and marketing of other "heritage brands", including Scrumpy Jack, Woodpecker cider and McEwan's Export ale. "They're all substantial brands but S&N is clearly focused on its power brands, which means they have a low priority," said Jygsaw marketing director John Edwards.
Edwards said he was confident the new arrangements would survive the Heineken-Carlsberg takeover, though Heineken would take on S&N's UK assets.
S&N shareholders will vote on the £7.8bn deal on 31 March, though there is still time for a counterbid to come in. Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch is the latest name to be linked with a move, although the company has declined to comment.
SAB-Miller said it had carried out a preliminary evaluation of the S&N Group but had decided not to bid.