Major dairy companies operating in Spain plan to lodge fresh appeals against a latest set of fines issued for alleged collusion on price.

Last week, Spain’s National Commission of Markets and Competition (CNMC) announced fines for eight processors – including Nestle and Danone – and two associations worth a combined EUR80.7m (US$90.5m) for sharing information on the price of raw cow’s milk between 2000 and 2013.

The largest single fine – some EUR21.9m – has been handed down to local Spanish dairy processing business Corporación Alimentaria Peñasanta. Danone faces a fine of EUR20.3m, Lactalis’ Iberian arm has been hit with a penalty of EUR11.7m and Nestle EUR6.9m.

Nestle, Danone and another Spanish dairy company implicated, Calidad Pascual, told just-food today (16 July) they plan to appeal the fines.

The CNMC has already announced fines in this case. Four years ago, the watchdog handed out fines totalling EUR88.2m (then US$97.3m) to eleven companies.

Six of the processors that face the new level of fines – Nestle, Danone, Lactalis, Corporación Alimentaria Peñasanta, Calidad Pascual and another Spanish dairy Central Lechera Galicia – were handed penalties four years ago.

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However, in July 2016, the Spanish Supreme court partly upheld an appeal by Nestle and partially annulled the CNMC’s decision. The regulator said last week that court ruling explains why the fines are in some cases different to those handed down in 2015.

Proceedings resumed last year after a subsequent ruling from Spain’s Supreme Court.

The watchdog maintains the eight processors – which also include US-based Schreiber Foods and Spain’s Industrias Lácteas de Granada plus the associations Asociación de Empresas
Lácteas de Galicia (AELGA) and Gremio de Industrias Lácteas de Cataluña – “have taken part in and are responsible for anticompetitive practices which infringe competition law”.

The CNMC said six other companies – Industrias Lácteas Asturianas, Leche Río, Feiraco, Leche Celta, Forlactaria and Central Lechera Asturiana – had also taken part “in these practices … although their infringements are outside the limitation period”.

The watchdog added: “The anticompetitive practices carried out by the offenders have consisted of
exchanging information, at the national and regional level, about raw cow’s milk purchase prices, volumes purchased from farmers and milk surpluses.

“This information would have allowed the companies to adjust their behaviour and avoid offering better prices and commercial conditions to the farmers, limiting competition in the raw milk supply market.”

In a statement, Nestle told just-food: “Nestlé Spain firmly disagrees with the fine of the Spanish Competition Authority considering that no infringement of the competition regulations has been committed or proven. Nestlé complies with the antitrust legislation and will appeal, once again, the decision of the Spanish Competition Commission before the competent courts.”

Calidad Pascual provided its own statement. “Calidad Pascual reiterates that it did not infringe the laws on the Protection of Competition and did not carry out anti-competitive practices. Faced with this resolution from the CNMC, exhausting administrative remedies, we will bring an administrative appeal before the High Court and, if necessary, appeal to the Supreme Court.”

Danone also plans to appeal, the French giant confirmed to just-food.

France-based Senoble was among the processors fined four years ago. It is not on the fresh list of companies facing a fine. In Senoble’s place is US-based Schreiber Foods, which acquired assets from the French company in Spain later in 2015. 

just-food has asked Schreiber Foods for a reaction, as well as Lactalis, Central Lechera Galicia, Corporación Alimentaria Peñasanta and Industrias Lácteas de Granada, better known as Puleva.

A report in Spanish newspaper El Pais said Lactalis, Corporación Alimentaria Peñasanta and Industrias Lácteas de Granada would appeal.