Brussels – 20 July 2022 – Joint purchasing activities between supermarkets have significantly increased in the past decade and reinforced the bargaining power of these retailers active in already highly concentrated markets. AIM, the European Brands Association, has submitted a series of proposed changes to the European Commission’s draft Horizontal Cooperation Guidelines (“draft HGL”) and R&D Block Exemption Regulation published on 1st March 2022 to ensure that the revised framework enables a fair and level playing field for a competitive and resilient supply chain in Europe.
The FMCG market has undergone substantial changes since 2010:
This changed market context makes it even more necessary to re-assess whether gatekeeper alliances, which do not purchase themselves, should still enjoy the benefit of the rules meant to cover situations that “truly concern joint purchasing”. In particular, the long-held assumption that retail alliances lead to lower consumer prices, which cannot be substantiated simply by comparing apples with pears, as some retailers have attempted to do, should not suffice to enjoy the said benefit.
Instead, because retail alliances differ immensely from genuine purchasing groups in the way they operate and conduct business, the HGL should distinguish properly between different forms of buy-side cooperation to fully capture the potential competitive risks associated with all forms of cooperation, without overestimating the potential for pro-competitive benefits.
Given the renewed importance of maintaining a competitive and fair supply chain in the current inflationary times – with unprecedented input and production costs impacting manufacturers across Europe, the HGL should help level the playing field in European retail markets by offering stricter rules on joint purchasing agreements to ensure that the harmful effects of gatekeeper retail alliances on competition, both upstream and downstream, are curtailed.
 AIM, 10th May 2020, “AIM’s Comments on the draft Horizontal Cooperation Guidelines and R&D Block Exemption Regulation of 1st March 2022″
 PLMA International, 13th April 2021, “Private label maintains strong position across Europe”: “retailer brands sustained their market share position above 30% in all but two of the eighteen European countries surveyed by Nielsen in 2020[, while] nearly half of the countries reached market shares above 40%”.
 AIM, 26th March 2021, “Musical chairs of retail alliances could spread further unfair business conduct across EU”
 RetailDetail, 5th July 2022, “Louis Delhaize and Intermarché combine their buying power”
 Bundeskartellamt, 24th September 2014, “Sector inquiry “Buyer power in the food retail sector””
 See Frontier Economics, March 2020, “Price Effects of Participation in National buying Groups – Prepared for Metro AG” and INSEAD, June 2022, “International Retail Buying Groups: A Force for the Good? The case of AgeCore/EDEKA”
 JRC Research Reports JRC120271, 9th May 2020, “Retail alliances in the agricultural and food supply chain”, p. 9: European retail alliances “typically do not engage in the joint buying of product, but close ‘on-top agreements’ with large A-brand manufacturers or formulate tenders for private label products.”
 See for example Case T-208/13 Portugal Telecom, para. 97, and Case C-382/12 Mastercard, para. 89 and the case law cited there.
For further information, please contact: Laurent Cenatiempo
Tel: +32 2 736 03 05 • Email: Laurent.Cenatiempo@aim.be
AIM (Association des Industries de Marque) is the European Brands Association, which represents manufacturers of branded consumer goods in Europe on key issues that affect their ability to design, distribute and market their brands. AIM’s membership comprises 2500 businesses ranging from SMEs to multinationals, directly or indirectly through its corporate and national association members.
More information: www.aim.be