IBA calls out beer market competition to ACCC


The Independent Brewers Association has critiqued Australia’s beer market as one of the most restricted in the world in its submission to the ACCC regarding the sale of Stone & Wood.

The ACCC asked for submissions on the takeover and its impact on competition in the beer market after the deal was announced last month, sending shock waves through the industry.

In its submission, IBA chief executive officer Kylie Lethbridge highlighted the oligopoly commanding Australia’s beer market and the resultant challenges faced by smaller and independent businesses to access key distribution channels and to respond to customer demand.

Lethbridge argued that the stranglehold that Asahi-owned Carlton & United Breweries and Kirin-owned Lion have over the market has only been compounded by another major player, that of Endeavour Group.

The newly-listed business has been focusing on private label brands, often mimicking existing styles and branding.

According to the IBA, Fermentum Pty Ltd represents approximately 20 per cent of the independent beer market by volume, and thus removing it from the pool of smaller independent brands will only exacerbate the oligopoly.

The IBA also launched a scathing review of the ACCC’s past actions within the beer space, notably its relatively uncritical acceptance of the Asahi takeover of Carlton & United Breweries which was finalised last year, despite the ACCC acknowledging it would mean the loss of a “significant competitor” to the market.

The ACCC’s intervention resulted only in the forced sale of two “declining” brands, Stella Artois and Becks, to Heineken.

The industry body also criticised the ACCC’s two-year investigation into tap contracts, tying hospitality businesses into exclusive agreements with suppliers, which was concluded in 2017. The Commission found that tap contracts did not substantially lessen competition.

The industry association pointed out that at the time, brewers did not want to speak out.

“Several independent brewers were reluctant to speak publicly about this out of fear of being targeted by “lock out” contracts that expressly exclude the ability of retailers to stock their brands,” she said.

The IBA argued that these “tepid” decisions indicated that the ACCC is “either unwilling or unable to intervene in the current marketplace in any meaningful way”.

“Given the past decisions of the ACCC, the IBA has no expectation that the acquisition of Fermentum Pty Ltd will be rejected, however, we feel it is important that our response is made public in the hope that future advocacy work leads to a broader enquiry,” Lethbridge wrote.

“At the very least, the IBA believes the ownership of beer brands should be clearly defined at the point of purchase so as consumers can make an informed purchasing decision.”

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