Heineken faces probe over 'free drinks and cash' for publicans

Formal complaint being examined by CCPC claims beer giant aimed to shut out rivals

Heineken has one of the largest market shares in its sector

Gavin McLoughlin

A complaint alleging that Heineken is involved in anti-competitive behaviour is being examined by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The complaint alleges that the company, which has one of the largest market shares in the sector, is offering money and free products to publicans as an incentive to keep rival products out of their pubs. It lists a number of pubs that have allegedly received these offers.

The CCPC is now examining the complaint to see if it can be substantiated. It may then decide to open a formal investigation.

Heineken Ireland said it could not comment on matters before the CCPC. "We support a competitive marketplace, noting that the beer category in Ireland offers the consumer a choice of over 250 beer brands," the company said.

A CCPC spokeswoman confirmed that the competition body has received a number of complaints about alleged anti-competitive behaviour in the drinks industry. She said the complaints are going through a "rigorous screening process" in advance of a decision on whether to open a formal investigation.

The spokeswoman would not disclose the details of the complaints or the company or companies against whom they have been made. However, the Sunday Independent understands that the complaint involving Heineken is currently being screened.

"Each complaint received by the commission is examined, and if the complaint can be found to be substantiated, the commission may then open an investigation," the CCPC spokeswoman said.

"The screening of complaints in relation to alleged anti-competitive behaviour in the beverage industry is on-going. There is no set time frame in which the commission must make a decision on whether to open an investigation. As this process is ongoing, the commission is not in any position to provide any further details."

The spokeswoman said that "by their nature, competition complaints require in-depth analysis".

"The commission bases its interventions on prioritisation criteria which enable the most effective use of our resources. Before a decision can be made on whether to open an investigation, each complaint is examined through a rigorous screening process," she said.

"Factors such as the nature of the query, the evidence available and the volume of other cases have a bearing on the time it takes to complete the complaint screening."

Heineken Ireland's brands include Murphy's stout, Foster's lager, Beamish stout and Tiger. The company made headlines around the turn of the year after becoming embroiled in a row with UK pub chain JD Wetherspoon.

In December, Wetherspoon delisted all Heineken products from its pubs, but later agreed to stock a selected range of Heineken products.