Nestlé bars Freshfields over Mars connection

Nestlé has cut loose Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer following its first European panel review in almost five years because of a business conflict of interest with Nestlé’s arch-rival Mars.

Nestlé has cut loose Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer following its first European panel review in almost five years because of a business conflict of interest with Nestlé’s arch-rival Mars.

Freshfields is a key adviser to Mars, a long-time competitor of Nestlé’s. Mars and Nestlé have even clashed in the UK courts, with Mars leading a long opposition against Nestlé’s attempt to register its ‘have a break’ KitKat slogan as a trademark.

Howrey will take over from Freshfields as Nestlé’s lead antitrust counsel in Brussels. Nestlé is understood to have been pleased with the quality of work at Freshfields, but the business conflict of interest led to the panel decision.

Norton Rose keeps its place as Nestlé’s chief M&A adviser in Europe, with White & Case supporting. Mayer Brown has been appointed London antitrust counsel, winning its first major European panel place with the company after a long relationship in the US. US firm Crowell & Moring has been brought in for a supporting role advising on competition issues.

Howrey has worked with Nestlé for some time in the US, but struck up a strong off-panel relationship with the company in Europe last year after its Brussels office advised on the $5.5bn (£2.8bn) acquisition of baby food maker Gerber from pharmaceutical company Novartis.

A few months beforehand, Freshfields had advised on the competition aspects of Nestlé’s $2.5bn (£1.3bn) purchase of the medical nutrition unit of Novartis.

The last Nestlé tender was in 2003, following the company’s Running Shoes initiative, which capped legal spend at 0.13 per cent of total sales revenue.

Nestlé sent out invitations for submissions to around 30 firms in the UK and Europe that year, calling 12 for interview. Six of those firms were asked back for a second interview. A similar format was used for this year’s review.