The EU has scrapped a probe into potential anti-competitive practices by The Coca-Cola Co. and two of its bottlers.
EU antitrust regulators said 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 sent questionnaires to The Coca-Cola Co. and its bottlers, as well as to retailers and rival firms.
However, it has now dropped the investigation.
“Based on the evidence collected, the Commission has concluded that there is insufficient ground to further pursue the investigation,” it said in a statement. It added that the closure of the investigation did not mean that “the conduct in question complies with EU competition rules.”
“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,” the statement concluded.
Responding to the news in a joint statement, 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.”
The Commission has ruled on the then Coca-Cola Enterprises’ business practices in the EU before. In 2004, the body’s antitrust unit announced it had reached an agreement with the company related to commercial practices that had been under investigation since 1999.
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.
It also instructed the group to give up at least 20% of its cooler space to non-Coca-Cola brands.