Unilever's HB brand of ice cream enjoyed market dominance in Ireland during the late 1980s and in an attempt to defend its market share, the company began giving free ice cream cabinets to outlets on the condition that these outlets only allowed display space to the HB brand in the cabinet.
But in 1989 US company, Mars, attempted to place its new ice cream version of the already popular chocolate bar in Unilever chillers.
The Irish courts in 1991 ruled that Mars was taking advantage of the freezer infrastructure that Unilever had developed in stores across the country. This led Mars to appeal to the EU commission in Brussels, and in 1995 regulators forced Unilever to let retailers buy the freezers in installments thus end ending the exclusive provisions that Unilever insisted upon. And in 1998 the Commision outlawed Unilever's exclusivity completely.
Unhappy with the result, Unilever appealed to the European Court of First Instance, but in October last year the court supported the Commission's previous ruling and declared the company's actions as illegal, claiming that the "effect of the exclusivity clause caused retailers to act differently towards other brands distorting competition on the market."
This catalogue of court cases and appeals and mixed rulings from courts has led the company to take the case to the European Court of Justice, the EU's highest tribunal.
Unilever lodged its appeal at the end of last year, and although the case is yet to appear in the court's journal, the company is adamant that the provisions did not affect the ability of other companies to enter the Irish market.