Protégé International and Avalon International Management have confirmed they have begun legal proceedings against Irish Distillers Group Unlimited Company (Irish Distillers) in the Irish High Court.
Avalon has an exclusive license for the marketing and sale of The Wild Geese Irish Whiskey; while Protégé is the exclusive sales agent for Avalon in the European Union.
In a statement, Protégé and Avalon said that "The case concerns infringements of Irish and EU Competition Law by Irish Distillers which have caused, and continue to cause, serious damage to the development and continued existence of The Wild Geese Irish Whiskey brand".
Established in 2003, The Wild Geese is an award winning premium Irish Whiskey, a brand that has steadily built a reputation for quality, vision, marketing skills and presentation of both story and product.
"Irish Distillers holds a dominant position within the Irish whiskey market, as recognised by Irish and EU Competition Law rules, and in holding this position the company has abused its dominant position by refusing, without objective justification, to supply Protégé and Avalon and by discriminating against Protégé and Avalon by supplying other independent Irish whiskey brands whilst refusing to supply Protégé and Avalon," the statement continued.
Protégé and Avalon are seeking a High Court Order which would require Irish Distillers to supply Irish whiskey to Protégé and Avalon in accordance with requests for supply which Protégé has made of Irish Distillers since 2001. Protégé and Avalon are also seeking damages against Irish Distillers and other reliefs.
Andre Levy, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Protégé, said: “Irish Distillers has abused its dominant position in the Irish whiskey market, resulting in damage to the development and existence of smaller brands like The Wild Geese Irish Whiskey.
“We have made multiple requests over the years to Irish Distillers for the supply of mature and immature Irish whiskey which have been refused by Irish Distillers without objective justification. Protégé has requested minimal volumes of Irish whiskey from Irish Distillers by reference to Irish Distillers’ production capacity. Irish Distillers has also discriminated against Protégé and Avalon by supplying other independent brands whilst refusing to supply Protégé and Avalon,” he said.
In 2001, Protégé had lengthy negotiations with Irish Distillers regarding the potential supply of Irish whiskey. Irish Distillers offered to supply mature and immature Irish whiskey to Protégé and Avalon at that time but only on condition that The Wild Geese brand would not be sold in the same territories in which Irish Distillers’ leading Irish whiskey brand, Jameson, was sold.
Protégé refused to accept Irish Distillers’ proposal as it made no commercial sense for Protégé, particularly as The Wild Geese was to be focused on foreign markets. In addition, the proposal was in breach of EU Competition Law rules which prohibit market sharing.
Irish Distillers’ parent company Pernod Ricard subsequently claimed that sales of The Wild Geese should be prohibited on the grounds that it would cause confusion with a bourbon brand then owned by Pernod Ricard called Wild Turkey. Pernod Ricard had never suggested that such a problem could arise when Protégé has discussed a possible supply agreement with Irish Distillers in 2001.
Following the termination of supply negotiations, Pernod Ricard brought approximately 50 sets of proceedings in 34 countries against Protégé and The Wild Geese on this alleged basis. The litigation was ultimately almost entirely unsuccessful, with only one claim partially upheld in the United States.