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Office of Competition and Consumer Protection

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The President of UOKiK has imposed a fine of PLN 723 million on Biedronka

< previous | next > 14.12.2020

The President of UOKiK has imposed a fine of PLN 723 million on Biedronka
  • President of UOKiK Tomasz Chróstny has imposed over PLN 723 million fine on the owner of Biedronka stores network.
  • The Jeronimo Martins company was earning unfairly to the detriment of food suppliers.
  • This is the biggest sanction for abusing of superior bargaining power imposed to date.

Commercial networks get various commercial discounts from their suppliers so as to purchase products at as favorable prices as possible. Best practices and legal regulations require that the goods purchase price be determined in an agreement binding on its parties. Granting a discount at the time of selling goods to a network or as it has satisfied certain requirements laid down in the agreement (such as, for example, turnover at a certain level) is acceptable. However, unfair discounts comprise the ones that were not granted by the supplier in the agreement but they are demanded by a commercial network as soon as it has become aware of the sales results for a given period. They lead to an unexpected price reduction, drop in earning results and margins as well as they hinder planning of business operations on the supplier’s part.

This was the case of Jeronimo Martins Polska - the owner of the Biedronka network. The data collected by the Authority in the course of the proceedings and controls in the offices of this entrepreneurprove that the company was arbitrarily imposing some discounts, mainly for the suppliers of fruit and vegetables.

Counterparties were informed of the necessity to grant a discount as late as at the end of the billing period, after the deliveries have been made. Thus at the time of concluding the agreement they did not know how much they would earn as at any moment the owner of Biedronka could have demanded higher remuneration by virtue of granting an additional discount whose value had been known solely to them. If previous invoices had not been adjusted by this discount, the supplier was threatened with a fine. Due to Biedronka’s market power, suppliers were accepting unfavorable conditions as they feared that termination of the cooperation would result in even bigger financial losses.

Only during the three years audited by the Authority, that is: in 2018, 2019 and 2020 - as a result of the challenged practices - the Jeronimo Martins Polska company earned more than PLN 600 million in cooperation with the food sector. During the period under investigation the prohibited actions affected more than 200 business entities while approximately 80% of the instances pertained to fruit and vegetable supplies. In marginal cases the value of the unfair discount was exceeding 20% of the entire trading value with Biedronka.

- The Jeronimo Martins Polska company was applying an unfair mechanism that consisted in arbitrary reduction of remuneration for its counterparties for the deliveries made. What is essential is that the additional discounts earned from food suppliers were not translated into lower prices of products for the Biedronka’s customers. This is an absolutely unacceptable use of market power by the commercial network. In view of the fact that for many business entities the supplies for Biedronka constitute a significant production volume, they were bearing immense costs. The practices of this type destroy the grounds of fair competition and responsibility for counterparties, they are the reflection of profound unfairness and lack of respect for other entrepreneurs. The fine had to be adequate to the breach of laws, burdensomeness of the practice and level of benefits earned unfairly by the Portuguese network. Within the three years we have audited, Jeronimo Martins Polska, through its practices, deprived its counterparties - mainly fruit and vegetable suppliers - of a few hundreds of millions of zlotys. The sanction can’t have been low for the practices of this type which destroy the foundations of fairness and responsibility in the relationships among entrepreneurs. I have decided to impose a fine of PLN 723 million on Jeronimo Martins Polska - says Tomasz Chróstny, President of UOKiK.

The maximum penalty for the abuse of a superior bargaining power on the agri-food market may amount to 3% of the entrepreneur's annual turnover.

The decision is very important also for the Biedronka’s suppliers. Firstly, I have ordered to stop the prohibited practices. Secondly, the decision finding the unfairness of the discount system at Jeronimo Martins Polska will facilitate the suppliers affected by those practices to get a compensation in civil proceedings to which I want to encourage as early as now. As the Authority, in every single case of this type we are ready to deliver a material opinion in the case to facilitate Biedronka’s suppliers to get back of their money of which they were deprived. Large commercial networks, in contrast to other sectors, have not been affected by significant restrictions. This is why it is even more important that they behave in a responsible and fair way towards other entrepreneurs - adds Tomasz Chróstny, President of UOKiK.

The method of charging fees from suppliers by the Jeronimo Martins Group companies gives rise to some objections not only in Poland. Last year the Portuguese enforcement authorities detained employees of this company who had been suspected of charging their counterparties with prohibited fees for the priority of deliveries to stores.

UOKiK has also been analysing the retro discounts obtained by other commercial networks operating in Poland. UOKiK has been conducting explanatory proceedings in the case. The analysis of the collected materials which - in the event of detecting breaches - will constitute the grounds for subsequent actions with regard to other network is pending. We will soon present first findings arising from this analysis which will be taken into account in drawing up the report on researching this market and developing proposals for legislative amendments by the way of implementation of the EU Directive concerning unfair business-to-business commercial practices in the chain of supplies of agricultural products and foodstuffs. The proposed legal solutions include, i.a., adding to the Act on Contractual Advantage the possibility of presenting a significant view on the matter. In this way, the President of UOKiK will be able to support the position of the entrepreneur or farmer in his individual court case regarding the supply of food products to large entities (e.g. retail chains).

The fine for Jeronimo Martins Polska - the owner of the Biedronka commercial network - is the warning for other networks that similar practices will be severely fined by the Authority. The opportunity for the avoidance of afflicting sanctions is the immediate change of the mechanisms of retroactive discounts unfavorable for suppliers. The way from the producer to the consumer goes through suppliers and sellers, including commercial networks - fairness of relationships among them and mutual responsibility are the factors on which the stability of farms and foodstuff producers, the development of the entire agricultural and food sector as well as the food security of Poland depends - says Tomasz Chróstny, President of the Authority.

Entrepreneur, farmer, if you operate in the agri-food industry and your major counterparty abuses its competitive advantage by imposing unfavorable conditions of cooperation – report it to UOKiK. We have launched a special form to assist you in reporting irregularities. You can fill it out here: https://ankieta.uokik.gov.pl/formularz-zgloszenie-przewaga/.

Additional information for the media:

UOKiK Press Office
Pl. Powstańców Warszawy 1, 00-950 Warszawa, Poland
Phone +48 695 902 088, +48 22 55 60 246
E-mail: [SCODE]Yml1cm9wcmFzb3dlQHVva2lrLmdvdi5wbA==[ECODE]
Twitter: @UOKiKgovPL

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