Italy fines Unilever for abuse of dominant position in ice cream

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's antitrust agency said on Wednesday it had fined Unilever's ULVR.LUNc.AS Italian unit more than 60 million euros ($71 million) for abusing its dominant position in the country's ice cream market.

FILE PHOTO: The company logo for Unilever is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid /File Photo

It said Unilever had abused its position in single-wrapped so-called impulse ice creams, intended for immediate consumption, which it sells through its “Algida” brand.

The local unit of the world’s biggest ice cream maker said in a statement it rejected the agency’s conclusion and would appeal.

Italian authorities started the probe in 2013 when a small producer of organic fruit lollies called La Bomba accused Unilever of forcing local retailers not to sell its popsicles.

La Bomba, based in the seaside town of Rimini, said Unilever had struck deals with operators of beach resort, bars and campsites to exclusively sell the bigger firm’s ice creams.

La Bomba makes less than 1 million euros a year.

Italians ate 5.15 billion euros-worth of ice cream in 2015, according to the antitrust agency, and sales of individually-wrapped treats were worth 780 million euros.

“The market for ice cream (to be consumed) outside the home is a highly competitive one in which artisan and industrial, bulk and packaged products compete for the consumer’s attention in a fragmented landscape that is like no other in Europe,” Unilever said.

Selling the Magnum, Carte d’Or and Cornetto ice cream brands as well as other food, home and personal care goods, Unilever makes around 1.4 billion euros ($1.65 billion) a year in Italy.

Unilever can appeal the ruling at a regional court.

($1 = 0.8486 euros)

Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni and Gavin Jones; Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Mark Potter