On November 3, 2019, the Commission opened a formal investigation of potential anticompetitive coordination between two French supermarket chains, Casino and Intermarché. The Commission suspects that the parties’ 2014 joint purchasing alliance, Intermarché-Casino Achats, might have led to them colluding in certain downstream markets, in particular on the development of shop networks and consumer pricing.[1] The Commission’s decision to open an investigation follows the dawn raids that it carried out in May 2019 in cooperation with the French Competition Authority, as reported in our May EU Competition Law Newsletter.

EU competition law is generally favorable towards purchasing alliances. Guidelines on Horizontal Cooperation Agreements recognize that such arrangements may lead to lower prices and higher quality.[2] However, buying alliances that do not adequately protect against negative spillover effects into downstream markets may quickly raise antitrust concerns. Indeed, joint purchasing alliances have recently attracted increased antitrust scrutiny in Europe: the Italian Competition Authority accepted commitments proposed by five grocery retailers to end their joint purchasing venture Centrale Italianato in September 2014; the French Competition Authority opened an investigation in July 2018 after several grocery retailers announced their plans to form new purchasing alliances; and the Belgian Competition Authority conducted dawn raids at Cora, Match and Louis Delhaize’s premises in May 2019, as also reported in our May EU Competition Law Newsletter.

[1]      Alliance Casino & Intermarché (Case AT.40466), Commission Press Release IP/19/6216.

[2]      Guidelines on the applicability of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to horizontal co-operation agreements, OJ C 11, 14.1.2011, para. 194.