The European Union’s Court of First Instance has upheld the Commission’s ruling that Unilever subsidiary Van den Bergh Food’s policy of banning products of rival manufacturers from its freezers in retail outlets is anti-competitive.

Van den Bergh and other manufacturers supply retail outlets with branded ice-cream cabinets at their own expense to help get their brands into more stores. However, Van den Bergh had insisted that retailers only stock its own products in them, which effectively banned other brands from smaller outlets, as many only have space for one freezer.

This practice has been found to contravene EU law because Unilever is extremely powerful in Ireland, dominating some 75% of the all-important ‘impulse’ market for ice cream.

The case has been rattling on for over ten years, and it is not unlikely that Unilever will now lodge an appeal with the only court that has more power than the Court of First Instance, namely the European Court of Justice. The company has two months to do so.

Unilever stressed that this case is peculiar to Ireland and does not affect its freezer-exclusivity policies in other EU countries.

In 2000 the UK Office of Fair Trading banned exclusivity in shops with only one freezer in a bid to keep the playing field level.

To see the Court of First Instance’s findings in detail, click here.