Coke faces Swiss anti-trust probe as discounter Denner takes up cola cudgels

Coca-Cola: Made in Switzerland... (Richard Allaway/Flickr)

Coca-Cola Hellenic has confirmed that Swiss Competition Commission (WEKO) is investigating allegations that it illegally stopped retailer Denner buying its branded sodas abroad at lower prices.

The story broke last week in the country’s German-speaking media, and Coca-Cola Hellenic (CCH) told today that it had received a preliminary questionnaire from the Swiss Competition Authority (WEKO).

Denner is Switzerland’s third-largest retailer and largest discount chain, and spokesman Thomas Kaderli told us that the chain is "pleased that action is being taken".

Denner claims Coke blocked ‘parallel import’ strategy

Denner claims that it began buying two-liter bottles of Coca-Cola from the Czech Republic in January, in an attempt to take action against what it claims were excessively high prices for the drink in Switzerland, based on its own data.

But the grocery chain claims Coke’s bottlers in Germany, Austria, Italy and France then took action to block its ‘parallel import’ strategy – which had resulted in a 25 euro cent cut in two liter bottle prices – either not answering Denner’s requests for a quote, or quoting unduly high prices.

‘We maintain a policy of strict compliance with competition laws’ – Coke Hellenic

Despite Denner taking up cola cudgels against CCH the preliminary investigation will take several months and may not result in an full-scale investigation for so-called ‘illegal foreclosure’ – the probe will also require concrete evidence of wrongdoing to progress further.

“We will respond and co-operate fully with the Swiss competition authorities as we always do. We maintain a policy of strict compliance with competition laws,” CCH public affairs and communications group director, Klaske de Jonge, told this site.

International brands must stop impeding competition - Denner

WEKO was unavailable for comment today, but spokesman Patrick Ducrey told newspaper Basler Zeitung last week that the Competition Commission would seek to clarify whether CCH had hindered parallel imports by Denner and other Swiss customers.

Denner spokeswoman Paloma Martino said it was time for “international brand name companies to stop impeding competition, and thus [allow] lower prices in Switzerland”.

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