Monday, October 1, 2007

Heineken's cold, frothy Dutch beer cartel

This is my photo of the Heineken brewery at night, caught right when a tram was going past. Artsy, no?

I love Heineken beer*

In April, the EU slapped Heineken with a EUR200 million fine for running a cartel to keep beer prices artificially high in the Netherlands, and today a bunch of Dutch bars said they're planning to sue for damages.

Bit of a bummer for Heineken, I suppose. On the other hand, DON'T RUN A CARTEL THEN, right?

There are many things I don't understand about this whole cartel story, and unfortunately, Heineken says it won't comment because the case is under appeal.

When the EU investigation started a couple of years ago, they wouldn't comment because it was an ongoing case.

Prediction: if they lose the appeal in 2010, they won't comment because it's "old news."

This way, they never have to comment at all. Magic!

I understand not wanting to draw attention to mere allegations that you've been defrauding your customers.

What I don't understand is, wouldn't you want to give some kind of explanation after you've been found guilty? Even if it's under appeal? I mean, the facts are out there.

Maybe you might want to say why the EU got the facts wrong, or got its interpretation of the facts wrong. Or apologize to your loyal customers who, thanks to the ruling, think you've been screwing them. No?

Another thing I don't understand is (and this is kind of in Heineken's defense)

why would they need a cartel when they've already got HALF the Dutch market?

Also, the prices never seemed that bad to me (as an American). But everybody noticed that the cost of beer went up by about 100 percent at the time the euro was introduced _ bars just changed the price sign from guilders to euros.
Yet, this cartel was supposedly in action from 1996-1999 _ two years before the euro changeover!

Another thing I don't understand is why it's just the bars suing. What about consumers? We're the ones drinking the beer! Weren't the bars just passing their costs on to customers?

And finally,
*why does Heineken seem to taste all skunky when you drink it in the United States, but it's delicious here?

I've asked them about this very directly _ I think it was the previous CEO _ and he (denied it was skunky and) ruled out two possible explanations:

a) he said there's no difference in composition because it's all brewed here (hence 'imported' in the U.S.)
b) he said it takes no longer to get onto U.S. shelves than onto Dutch shelves.

That's obviously a bit of a stretch to believe since it's got to take some time to ship it over there, but he insisted.

So the mystery remains.

No comments: