FoodBit: AB Inbev fined EUR 200 million for market-dividing packaging
In a press release dated 13 May 2019, the European Commission announced that it had imposed a fine of more than EUR 200 million on international brewing company AB Inbev for restricting cross-border supplies of Jupiler beer from the Netherlands, where retail prices were relatively low, to more expensive Belgium. According to the Commission, this constituted an abuse of AB Inbev’s dominant position as the leading supplier on the Belgian beer market.
The conduct for which AB Inbev was fined also included limiting supplies to the Netherlands, tying and limiting promotions to the territory of the Netherlands. Nonetheless, it appears that the Commission considered the most important abuse to be AB Inbev’s changing of Jupiler packaging for the Netherlands, to make the products harder to sell in Belgium. In particular, AB Inbev had removed the French version of mandatory information from the label, and had changed the design and size of beer cans. The Commission lowered the fine by 15%, because AB Inbev committed to ensuring the packaging of all existing and new products in Belgium, France and the Netherlands will include mandatory food information in both Dutch and French for the next five years.
This case makes clear that manufacturers of food and beverages – and in particular those with substantial market shares – should be careful in differentiating their packaging (language, design, size, barcodes, etc.) between EU countries without objective reasons. In this respect, it is observed that the hindrance of cross-border sales of consumer goods has clearly become a major focus point in the Commission’s enforcement policy. For example, only a few months ago the Commission fined Guess nearly EUR 40 million for restricting retailers from online advertising and selling cross-border to consumers between EU countries (see our Competition Bit).