A campaign to remove the Theakston family from the North Yorkshire company it founded 27 years ago is underway over concerns about its ability to deliver profits and grow the business.
The campaign is headed by David Nabarro, a former investment banker who helped raise the initial capital to launch Black Sheep in 1992 and who has been a shareholder since its founding.
Mr Nabarro says that the business, founded by Paul Theakston and run today by his sons Robert and Jonathan (Jo), has strong products but was failing to capitalise on an exploding demand for craft beer.
The businessman claimed he has the backing of a number of fellow shareholders and is close to identifying a new management team which he wishes to install at the brewery,
In a letter to management and all shareholders, seen by The Yorkshire Post, Mr Nabarro wrote: “I’m afraid, watching from afar, as year-by-year, one disappointing annual report has followed another through our letter-box, I have become increasingly frustrated and impatient with what I believe has been Paul and his two sons’ mismanagement of our company.”
Mr Nabarro denied his campaign, dubbed Building a Better Black Sheep, was motivated by his desire to make money nor was it a personal crusade against the Theakston family, but rather to make the business more successful for stakeholders and the region’s economy.
Mr Nabarro said: “We are not in anyway trying to steal the company or gain some advantage over the other shareholders. On the contrary, our objective is to make money for all stakeholders and just do the right thing by the company.
“In an age when there is so much craft beer produced right across the UK, people will pay a premium price for something that is very special. The trouble is that Black Sheep branding is very low quality and has not kept pace with changes in the brewing environment in the UK and therefore has failed to achieve price premiumisation.”
At its last set of published accounts Black Sheep delivered a profits of £260,000 from a loss of £437,000 the year prior.
However Mr Nabarro said that the performance of the business was still insufficient that Black Sheep was sticking to an outdated business model around a declining management for cask ales and large-scale deals with supermarkets which he said was failing to deliver effective pricing.
Instead he said Black Sheep should seek to emulate the success of other craft beer firms such as Camden, Meantime and Brewdog and develop “an estate” which would deliver better pricing, branding and distribution.
“You have a great brewery with great brands,” he said.
“But it is operating at around 65 per cent or production capacity, it could produce a whole lot more beer if it could sell it.
“Last year the exports of Black Sheep were three per cent of revenues. It is a company run with a lack of imagination and has not invested in its brands.
“A whole series of small beers started way after Black Sheep have done a much greater job.
“I am not doing this to make a bundle of money for myself. I am doing this to do something that is good for Masham and all the stakeholders in Black Sheep.
“Inspired management can create a business that makes more in revenues, creates more local job, more tax revenues and more value for stakeholders.”
A spokesperson for Black Sheep said: “The Brewery has announced a return to profit, a growth in sales and an expanded line of products. Furthermore, we are supplying a growing number of outlets and stores and the future is positive in a highly competitive market. The plc is owned by hundreds of shareholders from the local community and the comments of one shareholder activist, who has the objective of de-stabilising the management of the business, should not distract us from pursuing our strategy and delivering the results all shareholders want us to strive for.
“Change is in our plan and has been endorsed overwhelmingly by the majority of shareholders.”