C&C & Heineken Ireland under investigation

Executives from both Heineken Ireland and C&C have been called to account by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the HSE after some of Heineken Ireland’s “low-volume, high-quality draught products” were passed-off as local ‘craft beer’ in a number of on-trade outlets mainly in the Cork and Kerry regions while C&C stated that it sells its new Pana Cork lager brand in the Cork region based on Clonmel 1650 recipe, according to reports in The Sunday Times over the last two weeks.

According to yesterday’s report, Heineken Ireland representatives will meet with the FSAI as early as today following the company’s having been made aware that some of its product was being sold in a number of outlets under different brand names.

“This is not Heineken Ireland’s policy and accordingly this practice has been stopped,” stated the Cork brewer when the story originally broke on newstalk radio.

“We apologise to our valued consumers and customers,” continued the statement, “This should not have happened. Heineken Ireland has appointed an external firm to investigate and help us understand how this occurred and to prevent it happening again.  We cannot make any further comment at this stage of the process.”

The external firm is understood to be Grant Thornton, an independent party not involved with Heineken Ireland’s audits or conflicting with the brewery in any manner.

Sources in the trade suggest that the issue may have taken place in several dozen on-trade outlets out of the 8,000 or so that the company deals with nationally.

The Heineken brand itself was not involved in this practice, but it’s understood that the draught brands involved included Beamish, Murphys and Fosters being sold as ‘Blasket Blonde’ and ‘Beanntrai Bru’.

As for C&C’s Pana Cork brand, C&C has claimed that, “No product has been mis-sold as craft by C&C and all of C&C’s products are fully compliant with FSAI regulations”.

The company also stated that, “C&C is happy to meet the FSAI and to welcome them to its small brewery in Clonmel where it produces hand-batch standard lager. C&C does not mass produce any beers in Clonmel”.

C&C told The Sunday Times, “Pana Cork lager is not involved either in misrepresentation or passing–off as something it is not. All our trade customers know the origin of the lager, as all of our Irish beers and ciders are produced in Clonmel”.

The company also stated, “This is clearly stated on the keg or collar and communicated through product collateral and C&C’s sales teams. All marketing around Pana Cork Lager does and will clearly state its provenance”.

C&C describes 4.3% ABV Pana Cork as a standard high quality lager made from Irish ingredients and “hand batch brewed” in a small brewery at C&C’s manufacturing site in Clonmel “based on the very successful Clonmel 1650 recipe”. It had been introduced to “provide an alternative standard lager to Cork publicans who are under pressure from the rapidly growing take-home channel. 

“Pana is only to be marketed and sold in Cork and only in the on-trade as a standard lager (it’s not a craft lager) … Our lager is not involved either in misrepresentation or passing off as something it is not,” the statement continued of the brand which is brewed in the 40,000 hectolitre brewery in Clonmel.

However the investigation, which now involves the Health Service Executive and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, may be added to by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission which is also monitoring the situation although it has not begun a formal investigation following a complaint being received about beers being mis-sold as locally-produced beers.

The controversy should accelerate plans by The Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland to roll-out its ICBI symbol which offers reassurance to consumers that the beer they’re buying is what it purports to be – that the brewery supplying the craft beer brand is an independently-owned small-scale registered microbrewery as recognised by the Revenue Commissioners and that the micro-brewer has complete ownership of the brand.

At the time of the launch, some weeks ago, the ICBI identified the need for such a symbol: “Unfortunately some other companies are jumping in on this and releasing products into the market which they‘re misrepresenting as craft beer and being vague about origin to suggest a provenance of craft beer from an independent Irish brewery.”

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