Heineken fined £25m for 15-year abuse of Greek market

A Greek brewery has filed a €100 million lawsuit against Heineken’s Greek subsidiary, Athenian Brewery, after it was fined £25m for abuse of the market over a 15-year period, squeezing out competitors through exclusivity agreements.

Athenian Brewery (AB) is a subsidiary of Dutch brewer Heineken

The filing follows a 12-year investigation by the Hellenic Competition Commission (HCC) into the actions of Athenian Brewery (AB) – a subsidiary of Heineken – which eventually found the company in breach of Greek and EU competition law.

In a statement released on 1 December, the HCC said Heineken’s Athenian Brewery had “abused its dominant position” infringing on the Competition Act and 102 EU Treaty by implementing a “single and targeted policy that sought to exclude its competitors from the on-trade consumption market (e.g. HORECA chains and other retail outlets) and to limit their growth possibilities, over a period of fifteen years”.

It said the company had achieved this by using exclusivity agreements to force publicans to stock Heineken brands, and by offering wholesalers “significant economic motives” to promote exclusivity and refrain from introducing competing products.

Heineken, whose brands include Amstel, Fosters and Birra Moretti, has already been handed a €31.5 million (£25m) fine by the HCC, which it has said it will appeal.

In a statement, Athenian Brewery branded the ruling “unfair” and said it “categorically denies the commission’s claims”.

Now the Macedonian Thrace Brewery (MTB) has lodged a separate lawsuit, in light of the HCC ruling, seeking damages in excess of €100 million before the Court of Amsterdam.

“Greek authorities revealed the full extent and intensity of the illegal anti-competitive abuse of Heineken through its Greek operating company,” said Demetri Politopoulos, MTB’s founder and CEO.

“For decades Heineken has been acting like a giant bully who’ll stop at nothing to get its way. It has been illegally distorting the Greek beer market while protecting the supremacy it wields, by coercing and intimidating distributors, retailers and wholesalers, and ultimately ripping off consumers.

MCB’s Vergina lager

“Heineken could have stopped this illegal activity to stifle fair competition in Greece, but chose to turn a blind eye, while gladly plundering profits from decades of blatant abuses.”

Founded by brothers Michael and Demetri Politopoulos in Komotini, Greece, MTB now has a 6% share of the Greek beer market through its premium beer Vergina.

Mr Politopoulos added: “We need Greece to benefit from a fair and competitive environment that encourages investment, new market entrants, healthy competition and economic growth. Together this will help Greece on the path to economic recovery.”

Heineken has called the ruling by the HCC “unfair” and has said it will be appealing the fine, but has not commented further. Should MCB’s claim be successful other Greek breweries are likely to follow in making similar claims.

 

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