A landmark ruling by the European Commission (EC) means retailers can now offer space in their free Coca-Cola chillers to competing brands.

Following an investigation by European officials into the company’s exclusive deals, The Coca-Cola Company and its related national distributors have committed to put an end to exclusivity arrangements, meaning customers are free to buy and sell carbonated soft drinks from suppliers of their choice. Rebates for hitting certain sales targets have been outlawed.

The EC ruled that 20% of space in Coca-Cola chillers should be set aside for non Coca-Cola products. The move effectively puts an end to Coca-Cola using its strong brands as a lever to force less popular products onto retailers’ shelves.

Coca-Cola’s commitments to the EC are legally binding until December 31, 2010. If the company breaks its word, it faces a fine of up to 10% of its worldwide turnover.