The European Council of Optometry and Optics (ECOO), the Brussels-based umbrella association, and the Zentralverband der Augenoptiker und Optometristen (ZVA), the German association of opticians and optometrists, both released official statements at the end of last month criticizing the terms of the European Commission’s clearance of the takeover of GrandVision by EssilorLuxottica.
The ECOO, which represents over 150,000 optometrists and opticians through 40 national associations from 25 European countries, said that it welcomed the commission’s decision to impose the divestment of stores by the two groups in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, but that these requirements were insufficient. According to Peter Gumpelmayer, former president and current treasurer of the association, similar conditions should have been introduced in other European countries such as France, Finland, Hungary or Austria for example.
The association remarks that the optical sector is mostly composed of small and medium-sized companies with independent shops and practices that will be negatively impacted by EssilorLuxottica’s acquisition of GrandVision. It also highlights the importance of ensuring choice and quality for customers or patients through retail players of all size.
The German ZVA, which is a member of ECOO, also released an official statement following the European Commission’s green light, expressing similar concerns over the fact that a manufacturer of lenses and frames would shorten the value chain to sell directly to consumers. Thomas Truckenbord, president of ZVA, regretted that Germany was not included in the list of countries in which the commission required stores’ divestments.
The association said that it was not only concerned about the consequences of the planned transaction for its member opticians but also for consumers. Truckenbord further commented by saying that competition regulators have been “a bit naïve” as monopolistic situations are expected to happen for certain products on the German market as well.
Andrea Afragoli, president of the Italian opticians’ association Federottica, told us that he generally shared the concerns of his German colleagues on the direct approach of consumers by lens and frames’ manufacturers. Regarding the imposed divestment of about 170 Italian stores currently belonging to EssilorLuxottica and GrandVision, Afragoli said that he hoped they will be sold in different lots and not as a package to a single operator.
The Rassemblement des Opticiens de France, the Consejo General de Colegios de Ópticos-Optometristas in Spain, and the Association of British Dispensing Opticians in the U.K. had not replied to our questions at the time of publishing.
We also contacted the main European lens manufacturers for an official comment on the European Commission’s decision but all declined to reply, except for Hoya. Oliver Fishbach, vice president of Hoya Vision Care for Western Europe, said that the company was surprised by the decision. However, it noted that the applied restrictions were relatively unusual when compared to other recent decisions. The Japanese lens maker expects that eye care professionals and regional retail chains will face increased competition when the EssilorLuxottica-GrandVision transaction is closed.
The European Commission said that it had received feedback from more than 4,300 opticians during its in-depth investigation of the case.It declined to comment on ECOO and ZVA’s statements. A non-confidential version of the clearance decision will be made available on the commission’s website in a few months.