Justice Department closes investigation of ABI’s acquisition of Devils Backbone
"“Earlier this year, the division approved ABI’s acquisition of SABMiller only after ABI agreed to divest SABMiller’s entire U.S. business – including SABMiller’s ownership interest in MillerCoors – and to cease business practices and programs that restrict the ability and incentive of independent beer distributors to sell and promote the beers of ABI’s rivals.
"The division insisted on ABI’s agreement to distribution-related relief because craft and other brewers cannot grow in scale and effectively compete in the U.S. beer industry without meaningful access to efficient beer distribution networks, such as the network that distributes ABI beer.
"After careful consideration, the division has determined that, in light of the distribution relief secured in the ABI/SABMiller settlement, the competitive implications of ABI’s acquisition of Devils Backbone are too uncertain at this time to warrant further investigation.
"However, the division will be carefully monitoring ABI’s compliance with its distribution obligations under this settlement. The division will also carefully scrutinize any future craft acquisitions by ABI.
"The ABI/SABMiller settlement provides the division the opportunity to review certain of ABI’s future craft acquisitions – including acquisitions that may fall below the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act’s reporting thresholds.
"In reviewing any such future acquisitions, the division will consider whether these transactions, either singularly or collectively, are likely to harm competition by, among other things, giving ABI the ability to prevent its craft rivals from effectively getting their products to the market or the ability to increase high-end beer prices which, in turn, would enhance ABI’s ability to raise prices in the premium and sub-premium beer segments.
"If the division sees evidence that ABI may be circumventing its distribution obligations or has used multiple craft acquisitions to impair competition, it will consider all its enforcement options – including re-opening its investigation of ABI’s acquisition of Devils Backbone – and all appropriate relief." ■