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Mushroom cartel: EU fines canned mushroom producers in antitrust settlement

By Nathan Gray+

30-Jun-2014

Mushroom cartel: EU fines canned mushroom producers in antitrust settlement

The European Commission (EC) has fined three producers of canned mushrooms more than €32 million after it ruled that they participated in a cartel to coordinate prices throughout Europe.

The Commission ruled that the cartel made up of three canned mushroom producers - Lutèce, Prochamp and Bonduelle – fixed prices and worked together to allocate customers for more than a year.

Dutch mushroom producer Lutèce did not face after it received immunity for revealing the existence of the cartel to the Commission, while Prochamp also benefitted from fine reductions, said the EC.

"The cartel for canned mushrooms, which aimed to avoid a fall in prices, covered sales to retailers throughout Europe for more than a year,” explained Joaquín Almunia, Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy. “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 three firms received a reduced fine after agreeing to settle the case, while a fourth firm named as Spanish firm Riberebro is still under investigation by the EC under its standard (non-settlement) cartel procedure.

Mushroom cartel

Canned mushrooms are mushrooms sold in tins and jars. The cartel covered the sales of private label canned mushrooms via tender procedures to retailers and food wholesaler, including 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, said the Commission. 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.

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, said the Commission.

“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.”

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