Dutch brewer Bavaria takes over Palm and Rodenbach

Summary

Bavaria brewers of the Netherlands are taking over Flemish brewers Palm and Rodenbach in an effort to improve sales of multiple brands

Secret negotiations

The Dutch brewer Bavaria has agreed to take over the Palm Belgian Craft Brewers and its partner Rodenbach. Besides the Palm and Rodenbach brands, the Flemish brewers sell such labels as Steenbrugge, Brugge Tripel and Estaminet.

The Dutch and Flemish brewers have been involved in secret negotiations for four months. “At the start of the year, we approached Palm and asked [CEO] Jan Toye if we could come for a cup of tea in the brewery in Steenhuffel,” said Bavaria CEO Jan-Renier Swinkels.

Ultimately, they tested more than the tea. “We had noticed that Palm has an admirable brand portfolio, and our enthusiasm grew as we tested the brands in the local cafes. Luckily we had come with a driver.”

The agreement brings together two family brewers from Brabant: Palm, based in Steenhuffel, Flemish Brabant, and Bavaria from the Dutch province of North Brabant. Both have a long tradition in the industry – 600 years in total – and both are operating in the shadow of industry giants.

Bavaria has made an international impact in recent years, including a major marketing campaign at the World Cup in South Africa, but still has to struggle against the might of Heineken in a market where pils beers are declining in sales. Palm, once the preferred pintje in Flanders – the beer that made Brabant proud, as the slogan went – has been pushed aside by pils beers such as Jupiler and Maes and has now dwindled in popularity to the point that many bars no longer stock it.

Rodenbach, based in Roeselare, West Flanders, has recently developed master beers such as Grand Cru, a single-cask Vintage, and the fruit blend Caractere Rouge. The latter was created with top chef Vicky Gunes and aimed at restaurant diners who don’t normally order beer.

The deal does not include geuze and kriek from the Boon brewery in Lembeek, Flemish Brabant. Boon was a partner of Palm at one point, but brewer Frank Boon took to Facebook to stress that he has not been taken over by Bavaria.

“On 30 June 2014, the share which Palm held in Boon (50%) was sold to the Diepensteyn holding company,” Boon wrote. “The other 50% is in the hands of the Boon family. On 1 January 2016 the distribution agreement between Palm and Boon came to an end. Boon in still Boon. There is no connection with Palm or Bavaria.”

Also on social media, beer drinkers lamented the takeover of classic Belgian brands by a foreign brewer considered mediocre. But Sven Gatz, former director of the Belgian Brewers Federation and now culture minister in the government of Flanders, stepped in to defend the pact.

“Two family breweries coming together. One with no successor, the other with still a large family,” wrote Gatz on Facebook. “One with lager, the other with craft beers. No competition Holland-Belgium, just two Brabant breweries, north & south. … Consenting parties.” 

Photo, from left: Bavaria CEO Jan-Renier Swinkels, Palm Belgian Craft Brewers managing director Jan Toye and Bavaria CFO Frank Swinkels celebrate their new partnership yesterday in Steenhuffel.

©Dirk Waem/BELGA