Drinks giant Diageo has been branded a “corporate bully” by the owner of an independent brewery after several Belfast pubs were asked to cover rival beer pumps during last month’s Arthur’s Day event.
The multi-national firm — which owns big-name brands such as Guinness — has been criticised for handing out the large black covers to pubs involved in the company’s yearly Guinness celebration.
Some bars — including the King’s Head, owned by Botanic Inns group — used the covers to lesser-known beer brands not owned by the firm on Arthur’s Day.
Diageo posted recent annual profits of over £3bn — up almost a third on the previous year.
Bernard Sloan of the Whitewater Brewery, which produces a range of beers including Belfast Ale, said he was “really taken by surprise” at the decision which would have “taken away from his own sales”.
“It beggars belief in this day for something like this to happen — it’s corporate bullying,” he said.
“That companies would go to this effort to produce bar covers for bar taps is ridiculous.
“Thursday to Sunday is when we would do most business. We are not a threat to a company of this size which operates so many big-name brands.”
A spokesman for the King’s Head, one of several pubs which hosted Arthur’s Day events on September 27, said that as “part of this (Diageo) sponsorship they requested that other ales not be advertised on this day only”.
“It only related to advertising though, not selling. The normal full range of products were available to buy during the whole day and evening, including other ales,” it said.
“If a customer had asked for a Whitewater product, they would’ve been served it.”
Another popular independently operated city centre pub said it too had been given the covers to obscure its extensive range of non-Diageo products — including those of Whitewater Brewery.
Bob McCoubrey, owner of Mourne Seafood bar — which no longer sells Diageo products — described the decision of pubs to cover the beer taps as “extremely petty”.
A spokesman for Diageo Northern Ireland said it had made a “significant investment” for Arthur’s Day and it was “normal” in cases such as this for a “commercial deal to be put in place”.
“It is normal where there is a significant investment and/or sponsorship of an event for a commercial deal to be put in place for that event and in this case with publicans for Arthur’s Day who wanted to be part of the Arthur’s Day celebrations,” it said.
Arthur's Day was invented by Guinness owner Diageo in 2009 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the world famous stout. Named after Guinness brewery founder Arthur Guinness, the now annual event features a series of music events in cities right across the world, including Belfast. On Arthur’s Day, Guinness drinkers are expected to raise a glass to the memory of its founder at 17:59, a reference to 1759, the year the brewery was established. This year Arthur's Day took place on Thursday, September 27.