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Wetherspoons’ 99p drinks: what do Greater Manchester pub owners and beer campaigners think?

One pub owner was not worried by the headline-grabbing stunt but ale campaigners and brewers have raised concerns about the move.

JD Wetherspoon is rarely far from the headlines or controversy and its latest move is no exception.

The popular pub chain has announced that throughout November it is slashing prices on some of its drinks - including pints of a couple of ales and drams of whisky - to just 99p.

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This is despite the pub sector as a whole facing a number of rising financial pressures.

But what do such moves mean for independent pubs and the smaller breweries in Greater Manchester? Manchester World asked a couple of people involved in the industry for their thoughts.

‘I don’t think it’s going to have much effect at all’

Dean McDonald, who runs the Crooke Hall Inn in Wigan, said he was confident that independent concerns would not face too many difficulties as a result of the latest Wetherspoons move.

He suggested the chain already has something of a love-it-or-hate-it reputation among drinkers and positions on frequenting Wetherspoons or not hardened some time ago.

Mr McDonald said: “I don’t think it’s going to have much effect at all.

“There’s a split of people who either love Wetherspoons or completely dislike it.

Dean McDonald at the Crooke Hall Inn. Photo: JPIMedia

“Independent pubs won’t be fans of Wetherspoons because they have made it very hard within the trade with their pricing policies.

“People who are already going to Wetherspoons will stay there and people who prefer independent pubs for various reasons such as product range and quality or better food will continue to do so.”

Mr McDonald said he thought the area of the sector that would be most nervous about the 99p pints would be other large national pub-company chains which are competing with JD Wetherspoon for similar customers.

‘Price stunts aren’t good for the industry as a whole’

However, Wigan Camra (Campaign for Real Ale) branch chairman Sandy Motteram said he was not impressed with Wetherspoons’ move as it effectively devalues the perceived worth of a pint of beer in the eyes of drinkers.

Mr Motteram said: “Price stunts aren’t good for the industry as a whole, in my opinion.

Wigan Camra chair Sandy Motteram. Photo: JPIMedia

“I worry when some of your more mainstream products like real ale are some of the lowest-priced products available in Wetherspoons.

“If you want people to recognise cask-conditioned ale as a premium product setting the price low isn’t a good way to do that.

“I don’t understand how it’s possible to run a business selling drinks at 99p in this day and age.”

Pricing pressures are ‘deplorable’

Well-known Manchester craft beer concern Cloudwater slammed the Wetherspoons move, saying further squeezes on pricing was the last thing brewers need.

Cloudwater co-founder and director Paul Jones said: “Cask beer has been under pricing pressure for decades, leaving many small independent breweries with extremely slim margins.

A Cloudwater beer with a Manchester background

“It is deplorable that at a time when a great many small breweries are struggling to make ends meet that large businesses would pull up the ladder behind them and work together to create new pricing pressures.

“British cask beer is a tradition of great national importance, but slashing its value with cheap pint deals in a large chain will only weaken and spoil its image as a high-quality beverage that requires great skill and care from grain to glass.”

What has JD Wetherspoon said?

The company has remained tight-lipped about the offer, beyond chairman Tim Martin saying it was enabling customers to enjoy a range of drinks and save cash at the same time.

The business has had a year of turmoil, making a huge loss (only the fourth in its history) and sales for the year up to July dipping dramatically.

The move also comes as pubs are juggling rising costs, a return to higher VAT rates and an increase in the minimum wage.