The European Commission raided the Austrian-based energy drink producer Red Bull on suspicion of illegal collusion and violation of EU antitrust rules. “On 20 March 2023, the European Commission has started unannounced inspections […] in various member states,” The EU commission reported on its website. The commission raised concerns that Red Bull may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices, and that the world’s largest energy drink producer abused its dominant position in its markets.
The commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the national competition authorities of the member states where the inspections were carried out. Austria’s Federal Competition Authority, BWB, was apparently also involved. “On Monday, 20 March, officials from the EU Commission visited our premises. We will, of course cooperate with them on all matters concerning them,” Red Bull told APA, adding that further inquiries should be addressed directly to the Commission.
According to people close to the matter, the investigation is related to Red Bull's market power. The investigations are said to focus primarily on incidents in Luxembourg and Belgium.
Red Bull is by far the number 1 in Europe for energy drinks. There seems to be an assumption that the group is "abusing" its "dominant position" on the market and that there are illegal agreements with dealers to give Red Bull products preference over competitors. In any case, the EU Commission referred to Articles 101 (cartel formation) and 102 (market abuse) of the relevant contract in its communication on the cause.
If a cartel is suspected, several companies are usually searched at the same time. The fact that only Red Bull was considered also indicates that the group's market power is being viewed critically.
In October 2022, Red Bull co-founder and CEO Dietrich Mateschitz died aged 78. (inside.beer, 23.10.2022). Two weeks later, a three-person non-family management team led by the group's former global sales manager Franz Watzlawick took over the lead (inside.beer, 4.11.2022)
In January it became known that Red Bull achieved new records in terms of sales, revenues and operating profit in 2022. 11.582 billion cans of Red Bull were sold worldwide last year, which corresponds to an increase of 18.1% compared to the also very successful year 2021. (inside.beer, 26.1.2023)