Guinness owner brews up a shock for Ireland

ByABC News
May 10, 2008, 4:54 PM

DUBLIN -- Guinness beer owner Diageo rattled an Irish icon Friday, announcing plans to lay off more than half of its brewery workers, close two breweries and shift most beer production to a new, high-tech plant in the Dublin suburbs by 2013.

The British beverage company decided not to close the landmark Guinness brewery St. James' Gate, one of Dublin's oldest businesses and a top tourist attraction, after concluding this would do too much damage to its brand image and customer sentiment.

Diageo expects to lay off about 250 people, or 58% of its current brewery workforce in Ireland, over the next five years. Brewing staff at the flagship Guinness brewery at St. James' Gate in west Dublin will be slashed from 230 to just 65.

Half of the riverside St. James' Gate site will be sold for private development, and the volume of Guinness brewed there will be cut by about a third to about 500 million pints annually. This will exclusively supply the Irish and British markets, where demand has slipped over the past decade in line with pubgoers' diversifying tastes.

David Gosnell, Diageo's managing director of global supply, said the move to a new suburban mega-brewery was necessary to compete with the rise of lower-cost breweries in Eastern Europe, Russia and China.

"The business is hugely competitive. ... Smaller breweries are consolidating and closing in Western Europe," Gosnell told a news conference inside Guinness' panoramic Gravity Bar, which offered a 360-degree view of a mist-shrouded Dublin.

The new plant is expected to employ about 100 people, many of whom could come from the central Dublin brewery. Two other breweries employing more than 170 in the towns of Dundalk, north of Dublin, and Kilkenny, to the south, would close by 2013, and few of those workers would be expected to relocate.

Gerry O'Hagan, supply director for Diageo in Ireland, said the current production capacity of the Dublin, Dundalk and Kilkenny breweries was less than 1.25 billion pint glasses of beer annually, while the new plant would be able to produce more than two-thirds of that on its own.