Oreo-Maker Mondelez Fined $366 Million For Carving Up EU

Mondelez International Inc. was fined €337.5 million ($366 million) after European Union antitrust watchdogs said the US company illegally thwarted cross-border sales of its chocolate, cookies and coffee.

The EU said the maker of Côte d’Or chocolate, Ritz crackers and Oreo cookies reached anticompetitive agreements with distributors to carve up markets and bump up prices.

“We find that Mondelez illegally restricted retailers from sourcing these products from member states where prices are lower,” the EU’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement on Thursday’s settlement. “This allowed Mondelez to maintain higher prices. This harmed consumers, who ended up paying more for chocolate, biscuits and coffee.” She said that price differences of some products varied between 10% and 40% across markets.

Chicago-based Mondelez has been in the EU’s cross hairs since regulators opened a probe in 2021. The European Commission said that it found that, from 2012 to 2019, the company broke the law by limiting the territories in the EU in which wholesale customers could resell their products. From 2006 to 2020, Mondelez also prevented distributors from responding to sales requests in other EU countries, the EU said.

Mondelez also abused its dominance between 2015 and 2019 by refusing to supply a broker in Germany with products to be resold in other EU nations, and stopping the supply of chocolate in the Netherlands to stop them from being imported into Belgium, where prices were higher.

A Mondelez spokesperson said that the illegal conduct is not representative of the company and that it takes compliance matters very seriously.

So-called parallel trade means re-sellers of branded goods can source their supplies where they are cheapest and sell them on elsewhere in the EU’s single market. Efforts by brand owners to frustrate the practice have often sparked clashes with competition authorities.

Brussels regulators previously hit the world’s largest beer brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev with a fine of about €200 million for curbing cheaper imports of its popular Jupiler beer from the Netherlands into Belgium.

Top photo: Ritz brand crackers. Photographer: Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg.