May 13, 2019 / 10:23 AM / 3 months ago

AB InBev hit with $225 million EU fine over Belgian beer imports

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Anheuser-Busch InBev is pictured outside the brewer's headquarters in Leuven, Belgium February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, was hit with an EU antitrust fine of 200 million euros ($225 million) on Monday for preventing cheaper beer imports from the Netherlands into Belgium.

The European Commission decision came after a three-year investigation into the brewer’s most popular brand in Belgium, Jupiler, which has a 40 percent market share. Reuters reported last July that the company would be penalized.

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

The anti-competitive practice took place between February 2009 and October 2016.

The EU cut the fine by 15 percent after AB InBev admitted wrongdoing and agreed a remedy. It will 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, which in February took a provision of $230 million in its 2018 results, said it was putting in place the measures agreed with the Commission.

The Commission said AB InBev’s strategy had included changing the packaging of some Jupiler beer distributed to Dutch retailers and wholesalers, such as removing French language information from labels. This made it hard to sell the beer in Belgium.

The company also restricted the volumes of Jupiler to Dutch wholesalers to prevent imports into Belgium and refused to sell some of its products to retailers unless they agreed to limit imports of Jupiler beer from the Netherlands to Belgium.

Another anti-competitive tactic was to prevent Dutch retailers from offering customer promotions for beer to their customers in Belgium, the Commission said.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Philip Blenkinsop

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