Drinks retailers in Belgium have filed a complaint to the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) over the alleged anti-competitive behaviour of local beer giant AB InBev.

The Federation of Belgian Drinks Traders (FeBeD), which represents independent drinks traders across the country, issued the complaint, according to the BCA.

In a statement sent to Just Drinks, the watchdog said it could “confirm that the Belgian Competition Authority received a complaint from FeBeD but [is] still conducting a preliminary investigation”.

The regulator could not comment further on the matter at the time of writing.

AB InBev is being accused of violating both Belgian and European competition rules, FeBeD director Guy Dewulf told local business news site, De Tijd.

Speaking to the publication, Dewulf said: “The company abuses its dominant position to expand its own distribution in Belgium and to grow its brands to the detriment of other parties. The consumer is the victim of this.”

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The FeBeD has accused the Stella Artois brewer of using margin erosion and larger discounts with the catering sector, to “push competition out of the market”.

Speaking to De Tijd, Dewulf said: “AB InBev gives discounts to catering establishments that are higher than those to independent drinks retailers. That is not logical, because traders have higher turnovers and there are fewer logistics costs for deliveries.”

As a result of AB InBev’s supposed discounts, other retailers are forced to make smaller margins, which is pushing them out of the market, he added.

Dewulf also believes the company has side agreements, “with operators, for example, for the installation of a cooling installation. The main contract is, for example, the rental of the catering premises. These side contracts oblige the operators to purchase all drinks from them. That is completely contrary to EU rules”.

The Leffe brand owner’s discount schemes for traders in Belgium last for three years at a time. DeWulf said the scheme was an example of violating “his position of power”.

He added the Leuven-headquartered group “pushed through the new discounts despite a letter from more than 130 traders stating that they did not agree, an unprecedented form of solidarity in the sector”.

In a statement sent to Just Drinks, AB InBev described its buying agreements as “the most liberal beverage purchasing contracts with the catering industry in Belgium”.

Its present discount system, it said, “builds on the previous discount scheme that was evaluated by the Belgian Competition Authority. We are convinced that the current discount scheme is also in line with competition law regulations”.

It added: “The discount scheme is to the advantage of the catering industry.”

In 2019, the Hoegaarden producer faced a hefty €200.4m fine ($215.8m) from the European Commission for restricting imports of its Jupiler beer from the Netherlands into Belgium.

AB InBev presently holds a 54% share of the lager segment in Belgium’s beer market.