The European Commission says it suspects the AB Inbev brewery of abusing its dominant position on the Belgian market by preventing the importation of its Jupiler and Leffe beers into Belgium from the Netherlands and France, where they are cheaper. “Belgian consumers have doubtless had to pay more for their favourite beers,” the European commissioner in charge of competition, Margrethe Vestager, said on Thursday. “According to our preliminary investigations AB InBev was able to deliberately prevent cheaper beer from being imported into Belgium from France and the Netherlands.”
The beer giant’s practices may have violated European Union rules because they reportedly deprived consumers of the advantages of the single market, namely wider choices and lower prices.
According to the Commission, AB InBev modified the packaging of its Jupiler and Leffe beers in the Netherlands and France respectively to make them more difficult to sell in Belgium. For example, it dropped the French text from its cans in the Netherlands and scrapped the Dutch texts in France to prevent them from being sold in Belgium’s Francophone and Dutch-speaking regions respectively.
It also limited Dutch retailers’ access to key Jupiler products and promotions to prevent them from marketing cheaper beers in Belgium.
AB InBev now has the possibility of responding to the concerns expressed by the European Commission in its Statement of Objections, which is a formal stage in the commission’s investigations into presumed breaches of rules on anti-competitive practices.
Companies can consult the documents placed in the Commission’s file, respond in writing and request a hearing to convey their observations on the case to representatives of the Commission and to national competition authorities.