Six chain-stores operating in Portugal accused of price-fixing

Portugal’s competition authority has reportedly accused “six big supermarket chains of illegally fixing prices for some drinks, in collusion with three beverage suppliers”.

The story – picked up by international news agency Reuters and covered nationally with certain discrepancies – names Modelo Continente, Pingo Doce, Auchan, Intermarché, Lidl and E.Leclerc.

The years in question are 2003 to 2017.

Says Reuters, four of the businesses “aligned prices for beer and beverages distributed by Heineken-owned Central de Cervejas e Bebidas and by the local Super Bock Group”.

Two (Lidl and E.Leclerc) appear to have operated a similar scheme with Portuguese wine and liquor distributor Prime Drinks.

Competitions inspectors describe the situation as “very serious”.

Tabloid Correio da Manhã stresses that it “prejudiced consumers” in that prices rose “not just for beers but for flavoured waters and soft drinks”.

According to Reuters, a source for the competition authority has dubbed the practice “equivalent to a cartel where distributors, without communicating between themselves, resort to bilateral contracts with suppliers to promote and guarantee that all practice the same public price in the retail market”.

But is this all a storm in a teacup (or beer glass)?

CM claims “the supermarkets reject the claims”, while Super Bock has called them “a mistaken interpretation of the facts”.

Reuters too has tried to do its homework, receiving denials of wrongdoing from Central de Cervejas e Bebidas and Pingo Doce. “No one was available for comment at the other companies”, reports the news agency, concluding that the competitions authority has said it will not pre-judge the final outcome of this investigation, which will now give all companies concerned the opportunity of defending themselves.

If found ‘guilty’, sanctions could run to 10% of each supermarket chains’ volume of business, says CM – though there is still a long way to go before this point is reached.

Indeed, a note received by the Resident from Prime Drinks has stressed that the company “does not recognise the accusation made public by the Portuguese Competition Authority and reaffirms its willingness and availability to fully clarify this situation.

“PrimeDrinks will exercise its rights of defense, totally convinced that it has always acted, and will act, in strict compliance with Market rules”.

[email protected]