A European Commission antitrust investigation against a former buying alliance of Casino and Intermarché was dropped due to procedural errors. This leaves it unclear whether the retailers were guilty of unfair practices.
Insufficiently serious indications
INCA, the purchasing alliance that grouped Casino and Intermarché into between 2014 and 2018, escaped allegations of anti-competitive practices as the French retailers won a court case against the European competition watchdog. The European Commission had suspected that the supermarket chains not only purchased items together but also agreed on their sales activities, which is prohibited. It therefore launched an investigation and ordered searches at the companies involved.
The latter lodged a protest and were vindicated last Thursday: the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg annulled the searches by the EU antitrust watchdog. According to the judges, the information obtained by the Commission “are not substantiated by sufficiently serious indicia”. The Commission should have recorded interviews with suppliers on the case to use them as evidence, but did not do so.
Brand manufacturers urge continuation
AIM, which represents the interests of Europe’s brand manufacturers, “looks forward to the continuation of the investigation”, its general manager Michelle Gibbons says. In the current climate of soaring raw material and energy costs and disrupted global supply chains, a strong competition policy framework is essential, she believes.
The brand association has long been critical of retail alliances, which allegedly impede fair competition by demanding hefty ‘access fees’ from international brand manufacturers seeking to negotiate with their members.