The Marston’s 2023 AGM was held on 24 January at The Farmhouse, at Mackworth, a Marston’s venue on the outskirts of Derby.
This year, the company had invited written questions in advance of the meeting and the club submitted two questions. The first one asked about trends in cask ale sales, and the second about the range of cask ales being provided by the brewing joint venture with Carlsberg.
In respect of the first question, the company responded that they were seeing declines in cask ale sales in line with the rest of the industry. They attribute this to traditional cask ale drinkers making fewer pub visits, and newer drinkers choosing craft keg beers.
However, cask ale remains available at over 1,000 venues across the estate, and they are exploring options to support the category in lower volume pubs, whilst ensuring there is sufficient throughput to maintain quality.
In respect of the second question, the company said that as a minority shareholder they have no control over the range produced by the joint venture, and referred questions to CMBC.
I attended the meeting at Mackworth along with around two dozen other shareholders. A trading update issued on the morning of the meeting confirmed that recent sales are now above pre-covid levels.
At the meeting the CEO outlined the current pubs strategy and remained optimistic about future performance, whilst acknowledging the current pressures faced by the industry.
Several shareholders were critical of the company’s financial performance, particularly the continued absence of dividend payments. The CEO responded that the focus is on reducing debt, and this will be reflected in the share price in due course.
In the margins of the meeting, I challenged the CEO about the absence of information on the range of ales being brewed by the joint venture, but he maintained his view that enquiries should be made to CMBC.
Overall, I left with the impression that the company remains committed to cask ale where there is sufficient demand, has a clear strategy to improve financial performance, and is doing at least as well as major competitors in the current market.
Ian Brindley – CMIC Committee Member