EUROPE – The European Commission has closed its preliminary investigation into whether Coca-Cola and two of its bottling subsidiaries had potentially conducted anti-competitive practices by The Coca-Cola Co. and two of its bottlers in several EU member states.

EU antitrust regulators concluded that there were insufficient grounds for the case against The Coca-Cola Co., Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, and Coca-Cola Hellenic.

The European Commission had started a preliminary antitrust investigation over concerns the three firms may have abused their market dominance to grant conditional rebates to retailers in some EU countries.

The rebates, it said, may have been offered as a way to block the entry of new drinks into the markets. The Commission subsequently collected information from Coca-Cola and its bottlers, retailers, and competitors.

After assessing the information, the commission averred: “Based on the evidence collected, the Commission has concluded that there is insufficient ground to further pursue the investigation.”

“The Commission will continue to monitor business practices in Europe’s fast-moving consumer goods markets, including in the food and beverages sectors, to ensure affordability, choice, and innovation in the sector.”

Responding to the decision of the Commission, the Coca-Cola Co. system said: “We take competition law very seriously and we are fully committed to compliance with all applicable laws and regulations in every market we operate.”

“We confirm that we have been informed by the European Commission that they have closed their investigation into The Coca-Cola Company, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, and Coca-Cola HBC in Europe.”

Looking back, in 2004, the Commission reached a wide-ranging agreement with the then Coca-Cola Enterprises relating to commercial practices that had been under investigation since 1999.

The changes included an end to exclusivity arrangements with stores or restaurants, and allowing rival drinks into Coca-Cola refrigerators.

According to the EU Competition Commissioner at the time, Mario Monti, the aim was to let consumers choose what to buy “based on price and personal preferences, rather than pick up a Coca-Cola product because it’s the only one on offer.”

Pepsi complained in the 1990s that Coca-Cola’s distribution deals in Europe unfairly restricted access to competing products to store shelves, coolers, and soda fountains.

Subsequently, in 2005, the Commission said retailers were free to buy and sell carbonated soft drinks from any supplier of their choice and could not be forced into exclusivity arrangements with the Coca-Cola system.

The EU competition enforcer also instructed the group to give up at least 20% of its cooler space to non-Coca-Cola brands.

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