On July 16, 2020, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) imposed a €93 million fine on 12 manufacturers for their participation in a cartel in the ham and cold meat sector.[1] The FCA started its investigation in 2012, following a complaint from a slaughterhouse and a leniency application by Campofrio, a cold meat manufacturer. The FCA subsequently conducted dawn raids at the 12 cold meat manufacturers’ premises in 2013.

The practices

The FCA found that cold meat manufacturers coordinated their conduct to (i) obtain lower prices for products bought from slaughterhouses and (ii) impose higher prices for cold meat products sold to mass retailers.

First, the FCA found that four of the largest cold meat manufacturers in the sector (i.e., Campofrio, Fleury Michon, Financière Turenne Lafayette, and Les Mousquetaires) coordinated their negotiating strategies for ham purchased from slaughterhouses. Manufacturers would first reach an agreement on the negotiating framework and, during the bilateral negotiations with the slaughterhouses, they would then inform each other in real-time by telephone about the status of negotiations and the contracts they had concluded with the slaughterhouses. The negotiations directly affected the weekly price index published by the Rungis market, which serves as a benchmark for purchases by the other cold meat manufacturers.

Second, the FCA found that the cold meat manufacturers also coordinated over prices of cold meat products sold to mass retailers for their private labels products. In particular, the cold meat manufacturers held secret multilateral meetings between competitors in hotels in Paris and Lyon during which they would discuss their price positioning for each mass retailer.

Immunity from fines

Interestingly, the FCA refused to award total immunity from sanctions to the first-in leniency applicant, Campofrio.[2] While Campofrio offered evidence showing that several manufacturers participated in both cartels, the FCA only granted Campofrio partial immunity since Campofrio had failed to disclose the existence of one meeting in which one of its employees had participated. The FCA imposed a fine of €1 million on Campofrio.

The FCA also granted Coop, the second leniency applicant, the benefit of the “leniency plus” procedure for the second time in its decisional practice.[3] The “leniency plus” procedure allows the FCA to grant an additional exemption to a leniency applicant which provides evidence enabling the FCA to establish complementary elements of fact which have a direct impact on the determination of the fine amount. In the present case, the FCA granted Coop an additional fine exemption relating to the period of the practices which was revealed thanks to the evidence provided by Coop.

[1]              FCA Decision of July 16, 2020, n°20-D-09 (the “Decision”), paras. 279-281. The FCA fined the following 12 cold meat manufacturers: Coopel Arc Antlantique (€35.5 million); Les Mousquetaires (€31.7 million); Fleury Michon (€14.7 million); Coop (€6 million); Savencia (€2.2 million); Campofrio (€1 million); Aubret (€750,000); Sonical (€350,000); La Financière du Haut Pays (€330,000); CA Animation (€203,000); Nestlé (€96,000); Salaisons du Mâconnais (€1,000). See FCA, press release of July 16, 2020: https://www.autoritedelaconcurrence.fr/en/press-release/autorite-hands-out-fines-worth-93-million-euros-cartel-ham- and-cold-meats-charcuterie

[2]              For another example of a refusal to grant total immunity from fines, see Decision n°15-D-19 of December 15, 2015 regarding practices in the messaging and express messaging sectors.

[3]              For another example of the use of the “leniency plus” policy, see Decision n°18-D-24 of December 5, 2018 regarding practices in the household appliances sector.