Brewery landlords and bar tenants agree to play by new rules

Summary

After a months-long negotiation, the federal government, the drinks industry and bar managers have agreed on a new code of conduct that aims to tackle the problem of restrictive, all-encompassing bar contracts

“Strangulation contracts”

The federal government, the drinks industry and bar managers have reached an agreement on a code of conduct for the industry, aimed at tackling the problem of so-called “strangulation contracts”.

The months-long negotiation involved consumer affairs minister Kris Peeters, minister for small businesses Willy Borsus, and representatives of the Belgian Brewers federation, the federation of drinks distributors, Horeca Vlaanderen and its counterpart organisations from Brussels and Wallonia. 

The latter, who represent the food and drinks services industry, had complained of “strangulation contracts” forced on bar managers by brewers or distributors who own bar premises, and let them out to managers. The contracts were often all-encompassing and restrictive, forcing managers to sell only those drinks permitted by the owners, requiring them to buy particular products from approved outlets, from speculoos to toilet rolls, controlling menu prices, and even making the managers use approved cleaning products in their private dwellings.

The contracts also contained penalty clauses, with sanctions ranging from fines for failing to meet sales quotas, to suspension of the lease in more serious cases. The effect of the contracts was to restrict the choice available to customers, so that in some areas dominated by a local brewer, only those beers were available. Nationwide, the choice in cafe menus is dominated by the three major breweries: AB InBev (Jupiler and Stella), Alken-Maes (Maes) and Haacht (Primus). 

New rules

The code of conduct sets out a number of new conditions:

Managers will now be able to sell a minimum of two special beers of their own choice, with the choice of other products such as biscuits, coffee and detergents left entirely free;

I wasn’t going to let the cry for help from the drinks service industry go unheard

- Kris Peeters

Sales quotas must be reasonable given the location and history of the pub and the experience of the manager, and be reviewed annually;

Managers will now be required to follow a training course in business administration, hygiene, conflict management and alcohol abuse.

Some practices are henceforth banned: imposition of brands for private use and checks on the private dwelling of the manager; imposition of selling prices; access to areas not related to the lease; imposition of opening hours or closing days. 

Finally, a conciliation committee will be set up to settle any disputes arising from the application of the code of conduct. The committee does not, however, preclude any of the parties from taking legal action through the usual channels.

“I wasn’t going to let the cry for help from the drinks service industry go unheard,” Peeters said at the signing of the code in the famous Brewers House on Brussels’ Grote Markt. “This is a crucial economic sector that employs 120,000 people, not least many unskilled and less educated people.”

“For the companies and for the 40,000 self-employed people concerned, an improvement in contractual relations was an important goal,” said Borsus, federal minister for small business. “This code not only guarantees good relations between the different parties, but also helps achieve, maintain and secure the profitability of our drinks sector.”

Photo by Sofie Coreynen / Visit Flanders

Belgian beer

Belgium has a beer-brewing tradition going back centuries and is known around the world for both its beer culture and hundreds of craft brews.
History - Beer culture has been recognised by Unesco as part of Flanders’ Intangible Cultural Heritage. The local beer culture dates to the middle ages, when farmers brewed their own beer from the rich harvests of local grain, later transferring brewing to local guilds and abbeys.
Beer styles - The main styles include lambics, white beers, fruit beers, Trappists and abbey beers. The Trappist beer Westvleteren 12, brewed by a dozen monks in a small West Flanders town, is regularly rated by various sources as the best beer in the world.
Exports - Sixty percent of the Belgian beer production is exported abroad, with France, Germany, the Netherlands and the US the largest markets.
74

Litres of beer annually consumed per person in Belgium

100

breweries in Flanders

19

million hectolitres of beer produced in Belgium in 2012