France: "Final slap in the face" for Alsatian brewing industry

Heineken on Moday announced the closure of its Schiltigheim brewery "within three years". Brasserie D'Esperance in Schiltigheim is one of the three breweries, the Dutch brewing group operates in France and the last one in Alsace. On Monday morning, the company informed the representatives of the 220 workers about the decision as a necessary measure "to maintain the company's competitiveness in the long term."

Heineken justifies the closure by "the many constraints of the site", namely its isolation in the city center which "prevents any expansion", its "excessive production costs due to certain obsolete equipment" and its "strategy of industrial diversification which did not bear fruit".

Heineken also cited the growing loss of share in the French market (the market share in cafes, hotels and restaurants fell from 28.9% in 2016 to 23% in 2021), the distance of that plant from the markets of the south and west of the country and the poor environmental balance of the facilities, in a factory dating from 1862.

At the same time, the company announced an investment plan of EUR 100 million for its sites in Marseille (south) and Mons-en-Barœul (North) where the volumes of Schiltigheim will be transferred.

The Fischer brand beer, that claims to be brewed in Alsace "since 1821", will be produced locally, in a "microbrewery", the company said.

"This project to concentrate our production tool on two breweries instead of the current three is necessary to ensure our long-term competitiveness in France," said Pascal Gilet, CEO of Heineken France, quoted in the press release. “We will also carefully consider any offer to take over the site that may be made.”

Heineken has entered the French market in 1972 when it acquired  L’Alsacienne de brasserie (Albra), a joint venture of the breweries De l’Espérance, De la Perle, De Colmar und Haag.

Following Heineken’s closure of the Mutzig brewery in 1989, the Adelshoffen brewery in 2000, and the Fischer brewery in 2009, the closure of Brasserie D'Esperance is the “final slap in the face for the once proud and traditional Alsatian brewing industry”, according to unnamed sources from the ranks of the brewery.

In a first reaction, the workforce and the unions announced heavy protests against the closure of Brasserie D'Esperance and expressed their wish that the brewery's name (“Brewery of Hope”) would also be a sign for the future. One person close to the matter said: “At least Michel Debus didn't have to experience that anymore.” The grand seigneur of French beer, who ran the Fischer brewery until it was taken over by Heineken in 1996 and who is considered the inventor and promoter of flavored beers such as the tequila beer Desperados, died on October 2 at the age of 95.

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