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How the world's biggest brewer stopped drinkers getting cheap beer

Joanne Frearson
A super lorry (or Longer Heavier Vehicle, LHV) truck, produced by Ninatrans, leaves the Jupille brewery site of brewery group Anheuser-Busch InBev on December 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Belga / KOEN BLANCKAERT / Belgium OUT        (Photo credit should read KOEN BLANCKAERT/AFP/Getty Images)
A super lorry truck leaves the Jupille brewery site of brewery group Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), the world’s largest brewer, has been fined 200m by the European Commission for keeping prices on its Jupiler beer brand higher in the Belgium market.

Jupiler is one of the most popular beer brands in Belgium, representing approximately 40 per cent of the total Belgian beer market in terms of sales volume.

The beer maker abused its dominant market position in Belgium by deliberately restricting the ability for supermarkets and wholesalers to buy Jupiler beer at lower prices in the Netherlands and import it into Belgium.

It also changed the packaging of some of its Jupiler products supplied to retailers and suppliers in the Netherlands to make these products harder to sell in Belgium. This included removing the French version of mandatory information from the label, as well as changing the design and size of beer cans

"Consumers in Belgium have been paying more for their favourite beer because of AB InBev's deliberate strategy to restrict cross border sales between the Netherlands and Belgium”, said Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy.

Read more: AB InBev is said to target July listing in $5 Billion Asia IPO

“Attempts by dominant companies to carve up the Single Market to maintain high prices are illegal. Therefore we have fined AB InBev €200 million for breaching our antitrust rules”.

The Commission opened up an antitrust investigation three years ago to assess whether AB InBev abused its dominant position on the Belgian beer market by hindering imports of its beer from neighbouring countries, in breach of EU antitrust rules.

Although market dominance is not illegal under EU antitrust rules, companies have a responsibility not to abuse their market power by restricting competition, either in the market where they are dominant or in separate markets.

In a statement, the European Commission said that AB InBev had deprived European consumers of one of the core benefits of the European Single Market, namely the possibility to have more choice and get a better deal when shopping.