Greek court hands Heineken record fine for market abuse

The court said Athenian Brewery had abused its dominant position in the Greek beer market and, therefore, violated Greek and European competition laws. [rob_rob2001/Flickr]

A Greek court has imposed a €26.7m fine on Heineken subsidiary Athenian Brewery for abusing its dominant position in the Greek beer market over more than two decades.

In 2004, the Hellenic Competition Commission (HCC) opened an ex-officio investigation into the alleged market abuses of Heineken’s local subsidiary.

After a remarkable ten-year delay, which raised many questions, the HCC ruled in 2015 that the Athenian Brewery, which is almost wholly owned by Dutch multinational Heineken (98.8%), had applied unfair practices in the Greek beer market.

The Administrative Court of Appeal of Athens validated this decision last week and imposed the €26. 7 million fine on Heineken’s subsidiary.

The Greek beer market is dominated by two of the brewing industry’s largest multinational players: Heineken, which is marketed under a number of different brands including Alfa and Amstel, and Carlsberg, which is marketed primarily under the Mythos and Fix brands.

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Both companies currently control in excess of 85% of the Greek beer market and are typically able to sell their products at a premium. The remaining clutch of around 25 independent Greek brewers that are operating today are relegated to the remaining 15% of the market.

“We are typically forced to offer significant discounts and other concessions just to be able to secure a nominal presence in mainstream retail channels,” the president of the organisation of small brewing companies in Greece, Dimitris Politopoulos, told EURACTIV.

“Details of the threats and abuse that I have endured over the past 17 years, as well as the actions that have been taken against our products in supermarkets, wholesale depots and elsewhere, are all at the disposal of law enforcement and judicial authorities should they wish to investigate them further,” Politopoulos stated.

Small brewers have their voices heard

The small brewers of the country felt that their voice had finally been heard, as the court ruled that Heineken’s subsidiary company had been applying illegal and anti-competitive practices for almost two decades.

The court said Athenian Brewery had abused its dominant position in the Greek beer market and, therefore, violated Greek and European competition laws.

“Athenian Brewery applied a unified and targeted policy to exclude and limit the growth potential of its competitors from all distribution channels, whether in wholesale distribution to hotels, bars and catering outlets or other retail outlets,” the court noted.

Following the decision, Politopoulos emphasised that Heineken’s long-term abuse of its dominant market position should be replaced by “healthy competition”.

“The Dutch multinational should compensate any brewers that have been damaged by its practices,” the Greek-American businessman said, adding that Heineken’s headquarters in Amsterdam should bear full responsibility for the Greek market abuse over the last 20 years.

Contacted by EURACTIV, John-Paul Schuirink, Heineken’s director of global corporate affairs, said, “Heineken N.V. is aware of the decision of the Administrative Court of Appeal in Athens against Athenian Brewery. Athenian Brewery is currently reviewing that decision and considering its next steps.”

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