The Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China (“MOFCOM”) made the decision to prohibit the proposed acquisition of China Huiyuan Juice Group Limited by the Coca-Cola Company (the “Transaction”) under Article 28 of the Anti-Monopoly Law of People’s Republic of China (the “AML’). We believe the following three negative influences on competition were the primary considerations taken into account by MOFCOM:
Negative influences on the market due to Coke’s existing dominant position in the carbonated drink market
MOFCOM believed that after the completion of the Transaction, Coca-Cola would have had the ability to leverage its dominant position in the carbonated drink market in the juice drink market.
The ability to leverage is where an operator has a dominant position in a certain market and by taking advantages of its current dominant position, it is also able to obtain a new dominant position in a similar product market through tie-ins or bundle sales, imposing exclusive trading conditions, or other methods.
As Coca-Cola may have a dominant position in the carbonated drink market, MOFCOM believed that after the Transaction, Coca-Cola may (i) tie or bundle in Coca Cola’s juice drinks by utilizing its customers’ preferences in its carbonated drink, or tie its carbonated drink in as a means of promotion when selling juice drink; (ii) by offering discounts or refunds, encourage carbonated drink retailers to purchase a large number of its juice drinks, or limit their purchase and distribution of juice drinks manufactured by other competitors; (iii) increase sales volumes of its juice drink and supplant other juice drink products by taking advantage of its current sales channels, for example, its in-store refrigeration units installed at down-stream retailers.
Dominant market position in a certain market may be leveraged in adjacent or other closely related markets, which has already raised competition concerns by authorities in other jurisdictions. For instance, according to the decision made by the Australia Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) of the acquisition of Berri Limited (Berri) by Coco-Cola Amatil Limited’s (CCA) on October 8, 2003, ACCC believed that CCA would have the ability and incentive to leverage its market power in CSD (carbonated soft drinks) to increase distribution of Berri’s FB (chilled and ambient fruit juice and fruit drinks) product to the exclusion of rivals in the non-grocery trade channels.
Coke’s ability to impede market entry by controlling brands
Through review, MOFCOM believed that the brand is a key factor that influences effective competition in the drink market, that is, among other factors which may influence competition, such as capital and technology, the brand is considered one of the most important as opposed to other industries where technology may be more important. New entrants may not successfully gain market share in that it is difficult for them to obtain consumers’ recognition of their brands, even though they own certain technologies, facilities and capital. Coca-Cola may also restrain new market entrants by using its dominant position in the carbonated drink market as well as the leverage effect.
Accordingly, MOFCOM believed that after completion of the Transaction, Coca-Cola would have significantly stronger power to control the juice market by controlling two famous juice brands: “Meizhiyuan” and “Huiyuan”, as well as using its dominant position in the carbonated drink market. Therefore, the Transaction would significantly increase obstacles for potential competitors to enter the juice drink market from the prospective of branding.
The negative influences of the proposed concentration over small and medium operators and for the competition within the industry
MOFCOM believed that the Transaction would reduce survivability of domestic small and medium juice manufacturing enterprises, inhibit the ability of domestic enterprises to compete in the juice drink market, and harm the effective competition structure in the China juice drink market.
MOFCOM may have also believed that in the juice drink market, Coca-Cola and Huiyuan are direct competitors and therefore after the completion of the Transaction, Huiyuan, as an important and competent competitor, will no longer exist, which may lead to an increase of concentration. In addition, after the Transaction, Coca-Cola may soon gain a new dominant position by better utilizing Huiyuan’s current purchasing channels for raw materials, distribution channels of products, manufacturing equipment, market share, brand effects, and other advantages, as well as the leverage effects resulting from its dominant position in the carbonated drink market. Therefore, it could be concluded that the Transaction may negatively impact small and medium operators and may have a bad influence on the competition structure of juice drink industry and its further development.