The beer supplier is the world’s biggest brewer and holds a very strong position on the Belgian beer market. Its most popular beer brands in Belgium are also sold in the Dutch and French markets. The European Commission’s investigation has revealed that the company’s beer brands are sold at a cheaper price in the Netherlands and France, due to the significant competition it faces in these markets.
In its Statement of Objections (used by the Commission to initiate proceedings against companies for antitrust breaches), the Commission has identified the company to be dominant in the Belgian beer market. According to the Commission, it abused its dominance by preventing supermarkets and wholesalers from buying its beer brands at lower prices in the Netherlands and France, with the aim of ensuring that these beers are not imported into Belgium.
The Commission’s concerns relate to several practices that have been in place since 2009. The packaging of beer cans that are sold in the Netherlands and France has been modified so as to hinder their entry to the Belgian market. The company also has limited Dutch retailers’ access to key products and promotions, with the aim of preventing less expensive beer from being brought into Belgium.
In the Commission’s view, these actions breach Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which prohibits abuse of dominance. In the EU, dominant companies are subject to a tougher standard than in other jurisdictions since they hold a special responsibility not to impair genuine undistorted competition. As usual and required by Regulation 1/2003, the conclusions included in the Statement of Objections are without prejudice to a final decision of the Commission.