On December 17, 2019, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) fined six compote manufacturers for a total of 58.3 million euros for price fixing and market sharing practices. The fines were imposed on Materne(13.6 million euros), Andros (14.1 million euros), Conserves France (1.9 million euros), Délis SA (9.5 million euros), Charles Faraud (16.4 million euros) and Valade (2.8 million euros).
After endives, flour, yoghurt or laundry detergents, the FCA adopted a new sanction decision on compotes, another everyday consumer product. The FCA found that compote manufacturers Materne, Andros, Conserves France, Délis SA (a Lactalis group company), Charles Faraud and Valade had participated for more than three years in a price fixing and market sharing cartel.
The infringement covered the entire French territory and lasted from October 2010 to January 2014. The companies sanctioned supplied compotes under private labels to supermarket chains, catering companies and players in the hospitality industry in France. Together, they held 90% of the French market for compotes sold under private labels and 100% of the market for out-of-home catering.
According to the FCA, compote producers secretly fixed prices and shared the French market among themselves. The companies agreed to coordinate on price increases, as well as on the arguments used to justify the price increases. The cartel participants also shared market volumes and customers amongst each other.
Similar to the yogurt cartel, the companies used a relatively sophisticated modus operandi. In particular, they organized secret meetings in hotels and restaurants across France and used separate mobile phones specifically for the cartel.
To set the level of financial penalties, the FCA took into account the role played by operators in the cartel organization, increasing Materne’s fine for having played an active role in the cartel organization and decreasing Andros’ financial penalty for having disrupted the cartel organization. The amount of the financial penalties also takes into consideration the fact that certain companies were controlled by large groups and benefitted from significant resources.
Finally, Charles Faraud’s fine was reduced from almost 22 million euros to 16 million euros after the 10% turnover cap was applied.
A seventh player, the Dutch company Coroos, was also involved in the cartel. It was fully exempted from a fine of nearly 5 million euros after it blew the whistle on the cartel.
Interestingly, the Dutch competition authority assisted the FCA in the dawn raids on the Dutch company’s premises. This cooperation demonstrates the growing trend among European regulators to work together in order to ensure antitrust enforcement across borders.