LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s competition authority on Friday accused six big supermarket chains of illegally fixing prices for some drinks in collusion with three beverage suppliers between 2003 and 2017.
It said it found that Modelo Continente, owned by Portugal’s retailer Sonae, Pingo Doce, run by Jeronimo Martins, and France’s Auchan and Intermarche aligned prices for beer and beverages distributed by Heineken-owned Central de Cervejas e Bebidas and by the local Super Bock Group.
The four supermarket chains, as well as the local units of Germany’s Lidl and France’s E.Leclerc, also used the same scheme with the Portuguese wine and liquor distributor Prime Drinks, the authority said.
“If confirmed, that conduct is very serious,” the competition authority said in a statement late on Friday, adding that the case was one of the first “hub-and-spoke” schemes to be investigated in Portugal.
“This practice is equivalent to a cartel where distributors, without communicating between themselves, resort to bilateral contracts with suppliers to promote and guarantee that all practice the same public price in the retail market.”
Central de Cervejas e Bebidas denied any wrongdoing and said in a statement that it would cooperate with the authority to prove that it had acted in line with anti-trust rules.
Pingo Doce also denied wrongdoing and said it was surprised by the accusations because half of its revenues come from promotional campaigns, in which prices are often discounted.
Nobody was available for comment at the other companies.
The competition authority said it would not pre-judge the final outcome of the investigation, and that the companies will have an opportunity to defend themselves. It did not say what sanctions they could face.
Reporting By Andrei Khalip; Editing by Catherine Evans