(CN) – The European Commission said Thursday that beer giant AB InBev has abused its market dominance by refusing to sell its Jupiler and Leffe brands to Belgian customers more cheaply due to increased competition there.
In a statement of objections, the commission said it believes AB InBev has been thwarting Belgian retailers’ efforts to import Jupiler and Leffe from the Netherlands and France, where both brands – the most popular beers in Belgium – are cheaper.
According to the commission, AB InBev changed the look of Jupiler and Leffe cans in France and the Netherlands to make them harder to sell in Belgium. The company also limited quantities to Dutch retailers and blocked them from some promotions if it believed they might sell to Belgian outlets.
The net result, competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said, is Belgian beer lovers suffered.
“Belgian consumers may have had to pay more for their favorite beers. Our preliminary finding is that AB InBev may have deliberately prevented cheaper beer imports out of France and the Netherlands from reaching consumers in Belgium,” Vestager said in a statement. “Such practices would breach EU competition rules, because they deny consumers the benefits of the EU Single Market – choice and lower prices.”
A formal step in propelling antitrust investigations forward, the statement of objections gives AB InBev the opportunity to respond to the commission’s concerns either in writing or in a hearing.
The commission’s antitrust investigation of AB InBev, begun in 2016, is one of several opened after citizens, national competition authorities and the European Parliament complained that prices for food and drink products vary wildly between neighboring member states.
While the regulatory agency acknowledged there may be some legitimate reasons for cross-border price differences, obstacles to trade between member states placed by suppliers may violate competition rules, the commission said.