Commission fines AB InBev for protecting higher Jupiler beer prices in Belgium

Workers walk near beer kegs for export at the port of Antwerp, Belgium, 18 January 2017. EPA/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

The European Commission has fined AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer, €200.4 million for restricting cross-border sales of Jupiler to protect higher prices of its top-selling beer in Belgium.

The Commission accused Anheuser-Busch InBev NV/SA (AB InBev) of breaching EU antitrust rules as it abused its dominant position to restrict the imports of its Jupiler from the Netherlands into Belgium.

“Consumers in Belgium have been paying more for their favourite beer because of AB InBev’s deliberate strategy to restrict cross border sales between the Netherlands and Belgium,” said Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

In Belgium, where there are around 800 beers, according to some estimates, Jupiler represents approximately 40% of the total Belgian beer market in terms of sales volume.

“Attempts by dominant companies to carve up the Single Market to maintain high prices are illegal,” Vestager added.

The Commission’s decision came after a three-year investigation. In November 2017, the Commission issued a statement of objections.

Commission accuses AB InBev of blocking cheaper beer in Belgium

The European Commission on Thursday (30 November) accused the world’s biggest brewer AB InBev of illegally blocking cheaper imports of local favourites Leffe and Jupiler into Belgium.

The EU executive said the brewer had abused its dominant position by following a strategy to restrict the possibility for supermarkets and wholesalers to buy Jupiler beer at lower prices in the neighbouring Netherlands and import it into Belgium.

To that end, the multinational removed the French version of mandatory information from the label and changed the design and size of beer cans to make it harder to sell to Belgian consumers.

The company also limited the volumes of Jupiler beer supplied to a wholesaler in the Netherlands. In some cases, it refused to sell other popular AB InBev products unless retailers agreed to limit their imports of less expensive Jupiler beer from the Netherlands.

Finally, the brewer offered customer promotions to a Dutch retailer if it did not offer the same promotions to customers in Belgium.

The anti-competitive practice took place between February 2009 and October 2016. The Commission reduced the fine by 15% after AB InBev admitted wrongdoing and agreed a remedy.

The company accepted to provide mandatory food information in both French and Dutch on products for sale in Belgium, France and the Netherlands for the next five years.

AB InBev had already put aside $230 million in its 2018 results.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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