We mostly write about domestic craft beer issues, but part of that requires keeping tabs on the forces of Big Beer, which necessitates a global focus. Today, we travel to Greece where independent brewery Macedonian Thrace Brewery (MTB) filed major legal action against Europe’s largest brewer, Heineken NV, and its 98.8%-owned Greek operating company, Athenian Brewery, for what they are saying is nearly two decades of anti-competitive market abuse.
Basically, everything the U.S. craft beer industry is worried about AB InBev doing (taking a huge stake in wholesale markets and owning as many smaller outfits as it can), Heineken is about to do after finalizing a deal to buy 1,900 British pubs as part of a £1.8 billion deal.
MTB’s case before the Court of Amsterdam, commercial division, seeks damages in excess of €100 million.
“Greek authorities revealed the full extent and intensity of the illegal anti-competitive abuse of Heineken through its Greek operating company,” stated 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.
“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.”
But wait, there is more: Heineken was recently fined
This lawsuit news follows a 12-year-long investigation by the Hellenic Competition Commission (HCC), the longest in its history, which found that Athenian Brewery had illegally abused its dominant market position in Greece, in violation of Greek and EU competition law.
In a damning 700-page judgment, published in December 2015, the HCC found that over the 16-year period investigated, from 1998-2014, AB had: “adopted and implemented a single and targeted policy that sought to exclude its competitors from all segments of the market – on-trade (e.g. HORECA – hotels, bars and restaurants) as well as off-trade retail outlets, and to limit their growth possibilities…”
The HCC further stated that AB had “employed various commercial practices aimed at exclusivity, including significant payments conditional upon exclusivity and/or the foreclosure of competitive brands, loyalty and target rebates” and “engaged in restrictive practices at the wholesale level, by providing wholesalers with significant economic motives that promote exclusivity and by exercising pressure on them not to trade or introduce competing products.”
Heineken has already been handed a €31.5 million fine by the HCC, which it is appealing. The HCC also instructed Athenian Brewery to immediately “cease the infringement,” threatening fines of €10,000 a day for any continuing abuses.
Back to the MTB lawsuit
MTB is taking legal action in the Netherlands to:
- Hold Heineken and Athenian Brewery accountable for what they are calling nearly two decades of damage from their anti-competitive market manipulation;
- End they deem to be the denial of fair competition in violation of European and national competition laws; and
- Stand up for every independent brewery that is faced with similar abuses.
Founded by brothers Michael and Demetri Politopoulos in Komotini, Greece, MTB is no slouch itself with a 6 percent share of the Greek beer market through its premium beer Vergina.