Customers, writes Don Kavanagh, have been left out of breweries' and bars' thinking.

I sometimes tire of people banging on about how supermarkets are ripping us all off because they are effectively a duopoly, with Progressive (Countdown) on one side and Foodstuffs (Pak'n'Save, New World) on the other.

Whether or not they are ripping us off is a question for another place and time, but it did get me thinking about the effective brewing duopoly in this country.

DB and Lion have been carving up the beer market since the days when the Dead Sea was just a bit ill and for all the interest in craft beers, they still have a stranglehold on the bar market.

This isn't their fault, of course. They are simply doing business and maximising the return to their shareholders, as any company should. The problem would appear to lie with operators themselves.


When you open a bar, you have a choice: you can opt to go with one of the two breweries for your beer or you can have a little of everything.

The problem with keeping your independence is that you don't get the same support as you would by signing up for sole supply with one or the other.

Supply contracts between bars and breweries are their own business and I don't want always to be whining, but in those contracts the most important figure of all is ignored - the customer.

My issue with sole-supply bars is that they have effectively made customers' decisions for them. Instead of asking: "What would you like?" they are telling them: "Here's what you can have".

It's easy to spot a bar that has signed up to one brewery or another and, in some cases, you don't even have to look at the beer taps for confirmation, you can simply look at the spirit shelf and know it's a Lion bar.

As I said, I don't blame the breweries for this, rather the operators who have decided that the brewery really knows best about what a bar's customers want. I'd exclude those operators of theme bars, whose alliance with Monteith's or Speight's or Tui or Stella means they have no real choice anyway.

But the best bars in this country are independent and owe no great loyalty to any single supplier. Yet they tend to be successful, well-run bars with a strong quality focus and, consequently, very loyal customers.

Have a look in Suite, or The Corner Store, or Galbraith's or Julep in Auckland, or bars like Hashigo Zake or the Malthouse in Wellington - all of these are excellent bars committed only to selling top-quality drinks.

If only more were more like them.