But the craft beer industry says the decision has ignored what’s actually happening out there in the market and what a struggle it is for the small brewer.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission deputy chair Dr Michael Schaper said the regulator had looked at contracts and practices at 36 venues across NSW and Victoria and had found there was no lessening of the competition in any of the markets.
The craft brewers say that Lion and CUB have contracts with venues requiring them to dedicate over 80 per cent of beer taps to their big name brands in exchange for rebates, infrastructure investment and refurbishment loans.
But Dr Schaper said the arrangements did not stop the venues from bringing on craft brewers.
“Although some venues had exclusivity arrangements, most pubs and clubs said they did not feel constrained from allocating taps to smaller brewers and could make taps available for craft beer if necessary,” Dr Schaper said.
“While some craft brewers may have been refused access to taps by certain venues, our investigation found that the venues were responding to consumer demand for certain beer brands, rather than restrictions imposed by the big brewers.
“In fact, over half of the venues contacted by the ACCC indicated that customer preference was the key factor in determining the brands, types of beer and number of craft beers offered by the venue.”
But the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) said the ACCC’s decision would hurt Australia’s independent brewing industry.
“This investigation has been dragging on for more than three years and to now find out that the status quo will be maintained is a bit hard to take,” IBA chair Ben Kooyman said.
“For any small business to survive it needs protection from the market practices of dominant players. We had hoped that Australian consumer law, as interpreted by the ACCC, would be able to provide that protection. It seems we were wrong.
“The ACCC’s finding that tap contracts do not substantially lessen competition certainly does not match the realities faced by our members in the marketplace. We find it puzzling that the investigation seems to have focused on the venue’s experience rather than that of small brewers.”
Mazan Hajjar, founder of Hawkers Beer which is reportedly preparing a class action against CUB and Lion, said the decision was “almost funny”.
“If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny that they’ve come to this conclusion at a time when in the rest of the world every other day there is another story of seven figure fines being handed to people behaving uncompetitively,” Mr Haijar told Beer and Brewer.
“If you look at the US and European beer market it’s amazing. It’s amazing that the rest of the world is doing this while the ACCC has its head in the ground.”