Pub company Admiral Taverns is to freeze prices on a range of draft beers in 2012, despite imminent increases in the wholesale prices of many drinks.
The company, which has about 1,200 tenanted and leased pubs in England and Wales, is to send a letter to all its licensees announcing the freeze this week.
The move will see at least one leading brand in each key draught category remain at the existing price. Draught lagers San Miguel, Stella Artois 4% and Carlsberg will all be held.
Admiral is also planning to freeze the price of at least a dozen cask beers including flagship brands such as Marston's Pedigree, Greene King Abbot Ale, Draught Bass, Courage Directors and Shepherd Neame Spitfire.
It will be the second consecutive year that the price for Carlsberg has been held by the company.
Managing director Kevin Georgel said: "In arriving at this year's wholesale price increases we have endeavoured to provide our licensees with alternatives and where possible we have absorbed as much of the cost increases as we can.
"Our pricing is now below what brewers themselves recommend we charge for many of their beers, but as a business we have faced cost increases in all of these product categories, so effectively we are taking these increases on the chin. However, we believe this is the right thing to do.
"Our partnership approach is a key driver of the Admiral business. We feel it is important to demonstrate a commitment to licensees on pricing and our work in this area has allowed us to provide them with a soft landing, which is crucial in this environment. Freezing prices on a wide selection of leading brands gives licensees a real alternative - to other drinks brands where we have had no choice but to pass on brewers' recommended increases.
"We will also be working closely with licensees to help set retail prices in their pubs that not only sustains their business, but drives it forward."
However Georgel said that if the government opted to press ahead with yet more alcohol duty hikes in the Budget this March, the company would have little choice but to pass these increases through to licensees. He said: "We have worked extremely hard to help our licensees keep prices down for their customers, and we would urge George Osborne to do the same.
"It does not make any sense for the Chancellor to keep the above-inflation duty escalator in place, given that it actually serves to reduce the tax take from alcohol. It is a tax on pubs and has driven the acceleration of the gap in alcohol pricing between the on-trade and off-trade. It is driving alcohol consumption away from the pub and it is time for a different approach."
By Neil Gerrard
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