French, Belgian retailers face EU cartel probe over consumer-goods buying

5 May 2017. By Lewis Crofts.

Supermarket chains in France and Belgium are under EU investigation for potential collusion in the way they buy everyday consumer goods including foods and cleaning products.

The European Commission is investigating the supermarkets' commercial strategies and the conditions they impose when they buy products through alliances.

The retail sector and the pricing of consumer goods have long been the preserve of national antitrust agencies. The new investigation is significant in that it shows the EU regulator investigating the sector.

The probe came to light after three groups of companies inspected in Feb. 20 raids filed lawsuits at the EU courts to contest the inspections.

Those companies are Casino, Guichard-Perrachon, EMC Distribution, Intermarché Casino Achats, Les Mousquetaires and ITM Entreprises.

In a statement to MLex, the commission confirmed that it carried out the raids on Feb. 20 in France and Belgium.

Concerns focus on the supermarkets themselves as well as alliances that some chains form when they are procuring products to sell in their outlets.

"In particular, the investigations concern conditions applied by these supermarkets and alliances of supermarkets for the procurement of everyday consumer goods such as food, beverages, home care and personal care products," the Brussels-based regulator said.

"The commission is also looking at competition issues linked to the general commercial strategies of some supermarket chains."

Speaking a year ago, an EU official hinted that buying alliances were on the regulator's radar after several national watchdogs — such as Italy's — had investigated procurement arrangements.

Traditionally, "buying alliances" have been joint purchasing agreements between small and medium-sized retailers and wholesalers that allow them to compete with their bigger rivals.

These have been seen as pro-competitive, because the gains among the members outweigh any degree of market power that is created.

But evolutions in some buying alliances operating across borders have triggered complaints to EU authorities, MLex understands.

	Eliot Gao