Riberebro has said it is working on appealing the Commission’s fine of €5,194,000.
The price fixing concerned canned mushrooms sold in tins and jars for private label brands sold in the European Economic Area, with the aim of stabilising the companies’ market shares and stopping a decline in prices.
Riberebro participated in the cartel from 10 September 2010 to 28 February 2012, with the four members exchanging confidential information on tenders, setting minimum prices, agreeing on volume targets and allocating customers among themselves, said the Commission.
The cartel also involved companies Lutèce, Prochamp and Bonduelle which, in 2014, were fined a total of €32 million for their participation.
But Dutch processor Lutèce received full immunity for revealing the existence of the cartel – avoiding a fine of €20.7 million – while Prochamp received a reduction of 30% for cooperating with the investigation.
Upon the announcement of the fine this week, EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager said access to food at competitive prices was essential for European consumers. “The cartel for canned mushrooms affected sales to retailers throughout Europe. Today's decision once again shows the Commission's determination to sanction cartels and impose fines on all cartel participants."
The fine took into account the company’s sales from the product in question as well as the serious nature of the infringement, the length and geographic scope of the price-fixing and the company’s ability to pay the fine. Riberebro received a 50% reduction for cooperating in the investigation, under the EU 2006 Leniency Notice.
In a statement released on its website, Riberebro said it had cooperated fully with the Commission throughout the investigation, acting with “maximum transparency and professionalism [and] providing all information in its possession”.
It has now set its sights on the future. “In 2015, the company completed a period of intense strategic, management and ownership transformation, which has laid a solid and stable development for the future structural bases. The renewed momentum and confidence of its partners have made it possible [and] Riberebro has entered a new phase of development and growth.
“As a result of this transformation, the group has launched an ambitious Strategic Plan for the period 2016-2018, focusing on competitiveness and business development, incorporating the best practices of corporate governance and internal control. This plan has already been implemented for months with good results emerging, which makes us optimistic and ambitious for the future.”
Between the first cartel decision in 1969 and October 2013, the European Commission has imposed fines on 820 companies, totalling over €19 billion, and has put an end to five food industry cartels in the past five years.
Last year the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) shut down a vinegar price-fixing cartel, fining German-based Kühne and Dutch firm Burg €4.6m and €1.8m respectively.
Founded in 1910, Riberebro is based in Alfaro, Spain and has production and distribution centres across Spain as well as one in Mexico and one in China.