The European Commission has found that Lutèce, Prochamp and Bonduelle participated in a cartel to coordinate prices and allocate customers of canned mushrooms in Europe during more than a year and has imposed fines totalling € 32 225 000. Lutèce was not fined as it benefited from immunity under the Commission’s 2006 Leniency Notice for revealing the existence of the cartel to the Commission. Prochamp benefitted from fine reductions. Since all three undertakings agreed to settle the case with the Commission, their fines were further reduced by 10%, according to a press release on 25 June.
Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy, Joaquín Almunia, said: “The cartel for canned mushrooms, which aimed to avoid a fall in prices, covered sales to retailers throughout Europe for more than a year. This means that potentially, all consumers may have been affected. After the shrimps cartel at the end of last year, this is yet another cartel penalised by the Commission in the food sector, where it is essential to protect European consumers against anticompetitive practices.”
The cartel covered the sales of private label canned mushrooms via tender procedures to retailers and food wholesalers such as cash and carry companies and professional customers such as catering companies in the European Economic Area (EEA).
The overall aim of the cartelists was to stabilise the market shares of the companies involved and stop the decline of prices. To achieve this aim the cartel members exchanged confidential information on tenders, set minimum prices, agreed on volume targets and allocated customers. The cartel was a non-aggression pact with a compensation scheme in case of customer transfer and application of minimum prices which had been agreed beforehand. The infringement lasted from 1 September 2010 to respectively 22 December 2011 for Lutèce and 28 February 2012, for Prochamp and Bonduelle.
In the context of the same investigation, proceedings were opened against Riberebro and the investigation will continue under the standard (non-settlement) cartel procedure.
In setting the level of fines, the Commission took into account, in particular, the companies’ sales of the products concerned in the EEA, the serious nature of the infringement, its geographic scope and its duration. The Commission made sure to achieve an appropriate level of deterrence while ensuring the proportionality of the fines imposed.
Under the Commission’s 2006 Leniency Notice, Lutèce received full immunity for revealing the existence of the cartel and thereby avoided a fine of € 20.7 million for its participation in the infringement; Prochamp received a reduction of 30% for cooperating with the investigation.
Moreover, under the Commission’s 2008 Settlement Notice, the Commission further reduced the fines imposed on all three undertakings by 10% as they acknowledged their participation in the cartel and their liability in this respect.
The total fines imposed are as follows: Prochamp (NL), 2 021 000 euro; Bonduelle (FR), 32 225 000 euro.
See the statement (in English) by Joaquín Almunia: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I090690