The NMa recently assessed buyer power in two separate concentration cases with differing outcome. In one case, it came to the conclusion that a 90-100% market share on a purchasing market for cattle is not problematic in view of the parties’ modest market share on the sales market. In the other case, the NMa ruled that the potentially adverse effects of a 80% purchasing market share on healthcare markets warrants a further review in a second phase merger investigation. In both cases, the NMa refers to the European Commission’s guidelines on horizontal mergers.8
The NMa finds consumers may benefit from the creation or strengthening of buyer power. A purchaser subject to competitive pressure on the downstream market is likely to use its buyer power on the upstream market to obtain benefits to pass on to its consumers. For instance, if increased buyer power lowers input costs without restricting downstream competition, a proportion of these cost reductions are likely to be passed onto consumers through lower prices. The NMa will consider adverse buyer power effects only in the context of their impact on competition on the downstream sales market, for instance, if rivals are restricted in their access to important upstream input or prices are temporarily reduced to force competitors to leave the market.
In Van Drie Holding’s acquisition of its rival veal producer Alpuro Holding9, the NMa assessed the concentration’s buyer power in more detail, since both parties were active throughout the entire veal production chain. The parties’ combined market share on the upstream calf slaughtering market amounted to approximately 90-100% (Van Drie: 60-70%; Alpuro: 20-30%). As a result, a significant alternative for calf slaughtering would be lost for upstream players. However, the NMa considered it unlikely that the parties would be able to adversely affect retail veal prices, taking account of their modest market share on the European sales market and the limited reliance of foreign slaughterhouses on Dutch fattened calves.
The NMa came to a different preliminary conclusion on the potentially adverse effects of buyer power in regard to the merger between (health) insurers Achmea and De Friesland.10 The NMa found that the post-merger entity’s strong position (approximately 80% market share) on the potential regional healthcare purchase market in the province of Friesland could reduce the types of healthcare offered by care providers such as hospitals, since these would be subject to the healthcare insurer’s willingness to contract their services. This, in combination with the fact that insurance policy holders are reluctant to switch health insurance providers and tend to use healthcare services close to home, has made the NMa require a second phase investigation to determine the post-merger effects on price, accessibility and quality of healthcare in the province of Friesland.