Canned vegetable cartel: Whistle-blower Bonduelle avoids ca. €250m fine in anti-trust ruling

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages/Boarding1Now
©GettyImages/Boarding1Now

Related tags: Vegetables, Competition law, Cartel

The European Commission has fined French food cooperative Cecab and Dutch manufacturer Coroos upwards of €30m for their involvement in a canned vegetable cartel. Whistle-blower Bonduelle, which was also embroiled, has been granted ‘full immunity’.

In an ant-trust ruling on 27 September 2019, the European Commission fined Cooros and Cecab (now D’Aucy) a total of €31.6m for their involvement in a canned vegetable cartel between 2000 and 2013.

Whistle-blower Bonduelle, which also participated in the anti-competitive syndicate, has been exempt from financial penalties.

Canned veg cartel

For more than 13 years, the cartel affected the supply of certain types of canned vegetables to retailers and food service companies in the European Economic Area (EEA).

According to the Commission, the cartel aimed to preserve or strengthen the companies’ position on the market, maintain or increase selling prices, reduce uncertainty regarding their future commercial behaviour, and to ‘control marketing’ and ‘trading conditions’ in their favour.

As a result, the companies exchanged commercially sensitive information, set prices, allocated customers and markets, coordinated their replies to tenders, and agreed on market shares and volume quotas, the Commission noted.

The investigation exposed a single infringement made up of three separate agreements:

  • An agreement covering private label sales of canned vegetables such as green beans, peas, peas-and-carrots mix, and vegetables macédoine to retailers in the EEA;
  • An agreement covering private label sales of canned sweetcorn to retailers in the EEA; and
  • An agreement covering both own brands and private label sales (sold under retailers' brands) of canned vegetables to retailers and to the food service industry specifically in France.

Bonduelle and Groupe Cecab were found to have participated in all three agreements, whereas Coroos was involved in the first only.

European consumers should have access to food at affordable prices. Competition enables that. But instead of competing with each other, Coroos and Groupe CECAB agreed to divide the market among themselves and to fix prices for canned vegetables across Europe,” ​said European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager.

“They did so for over a decade. These cartels ultimately hurt European consumers and with today's decision we send a clear message to companies that cartels are not accepted."

All three companies admitted involvement and cooperated with authorities, which sees both Coroos and Groupe Cecab’s fines reduced. An additional reduction was granted to one company unable to pay the penalty.

GettyImages-900800056
French food group Bonduelle was granted full immunity ©GettyImages/ricochet64

Bonduelle receives ‘full immunity’

Although Bonduelle also breached EU antitrust rules, by revealing the existence of the cartel to the Commision the French food group received full immunity.

“As part of the Commission’s investigations into this 2000s market practices, and as mentioned in its registration documents since the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the Bonduelle Group applied to the Commission for immunity from fines and obtained, on 2013 September 24th​, conditional immunity under this procedure,” ​noted Bonduelle. “The decision of the Commission confirms financial penalties exemption for the group.”

The Commission estimates Bonduelle’s exempt fine to be in the region of €250m.

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