For consumer companies, manufacturing is increasingly seen as a service to the brand. There is no hiding place for such plants. As if their markets weren't competitive enough already, their intermediate customers are the big retailers, not known for charity to suppliers. Where the industry is in addition consolidating manufacturing, it is increasingly a matter of the survival of the fittest.
Coors' Alton brewery in Hampshire is a good case in point: its history is that of modern brewing. Built in the 1960s to make Harp lager (remember Harp?) for Guinness and Courage, Alton absorbed another Courage brewery, ending up with Bass (remember Bass?) in the 1980s. There it survived repeated rationalisations until the group decided beer wasn't profitable enough and sold its breweries to Interbrew in 2000. Again, it survived Interbrew's cull before the latter, too, put it up for sale in 2002.
Alton is now owned by the US group Coors. Although a surprising number of the 120 or so staff are veterans of several managements, they have little time for the good old days. They are only too happy to belong to a company that values people and quality and is above all committed to beer. 'They're passionate about brewing and want us for our product, not as a cash cow for hotels or some other investment area,' approves general manager Gordon Stirton.