Profile: Public Health Report - Smoke-free future, Adam Collett, Marketing director, Greene King Pub Company

James Bond needs a licence to kill. We'll soon need a licence to smoke,' says Adam Collett, marketing director for the Greene King Pub Company. The quip is typical of a man with strong opinions and the conviction to voice them, on issues from smoking in public places to binge- and underage-drinking.

A 40-year-old non-smoker and advocate of a customer's right to choice, he manages a team of 25 and has seen the company expand from a £45m turnover brewery 10 years ago to a £332m food, drink and accommodation business.

It is exactly the sort of pubs portfolio that was put under the spotlight last week by the public health White Paper, which proposes that 90% of pubs should be smoke-free by 2008, while the remainder will allow smoking but have no permit to sell food.

Collett's willingness to speak openly marks him out from the majority of marketing directors in his sector, who, when approached by Marketing, refused to voice their concerns publicly.

He is frustrated by the government's lack of understanding of the industry.

'If we stop selling food from three o'clock, can we then become a smoking pub? If we have a separate entrance to another room, can customers smoke there?'

Confusion for customers and the subsequent impact on staff are also key worries for Collett. 'They will have to know which pubs they can and can't smoke in, and in turn that will cause conflict with staff. The government must back this with an ad campaign that will make it clear to customers at large, rather than leaving it up to operators.'

For all his concerns, preparations at his company were already advanced before the White Paper appeared. Collett says Greene King, which owns the 750 Hungry Horse, Old English Inns, Wayside Inns and Giant's Plate chains, along with Greene King and other non-branded pubs, is better placed than rivals Wetherspoons and Hogshead, as it already has a smoking strategy in place.

It has designated 30 pubs across all its chains as smoke-free zones under guidelines created by the British Beer & Pub Association, with smoking only permitted in the garden. 'We see the no-smoking offer as a means to differentiate ourselves from other chains.'

In the future, Collett says all pubs will have to clearly indicate whether they are smoking or food pubs. Although he acknowledges that pubs that do allow smoking could one day be in big demand, he says pub retailers cannot 'push' the smoking message overtly.

Hungry Horse marketing manager David Scott, who has worked with Collett for the past five years, says his colleague is not afraid to speak his mind. 'He has a clear strategy that we should tackle these issues proactively rather than waiting for them to hit us. He is not frightened to stick his head above the parapet and tell people how he feels.'

Collett will take his views, along with those of his peers, to the government in an attempt to make the White Paper workable. He proposes maintaining a degree of flexibility, whereby food and kids' areas in pubs are smoke-free, while a smoking area or room can be set aside, assuring no 'air transfer' of smoke.

Given the scale of the challenge his industry faces, Collett is remarkably upbeat. Although the pub trade in Ireland reported a 15% fall in sales after a smoking ban was imposed in March, he is confident restrictions here will not adversely affect Greene King. 'We've seen real growth in food and this will outweigh any drop in smoking customers.'

A ban, he says, would actually drive sales, because although 25% of adults smoke, a smoky pub atmosphere deters a large number of potential customers.

Collett has a right to be confident that the future of his pubs portfolio lies in its food offering. Last week Hungry Horse was named retail brand of the year by the Pub Food Awards 2004.

'Public inclusivity' is central to the purpose of pubs, says Collett.

'Beer, food and fruit machines are all part of that, but primarily it's about having fun. We want choice for customers of all types. We can't spoil that. Pubs are thriving.'

CAREER HISTORY

1986-1988: Graduate trainee, Grand Metropolitan (now Diageo)

1988-1990: Marketing executive, Argos

1990-1994: Marketing manager, Whitbread

1994-2000: Marketing manager rising to marketing director, Greene King

Brewing & Brands

2000-present: Marketing director, Greene King Pub Company

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