Frances Bonduelle escaped a fine for revealing the cartel

France's Bonduelle escaped a fine for revealing the cartel

The European Commission has fined two companies based in France and the Netherlands more than EUR30m (US$32.8m) for breaching antitrust rules related to a cartel that inflated prices of canned vegetables.

The Commission said in a statement it found Bonduelle and Groupe CECAB, both headquartered in France, and Dutch firm Coroos were part of the cartel over a 13-year period which set out "to preserve or strengthen their position on the market", including increasing prices. The infringement covered the whole of the European Economic Area (EEA) and lasted from 19 January 2000 to 11 June 2013 for Bonduelle, and to 1 October 2013 for Coroos and CECAB.

CECAB was fined EUR18m while Coroos was penalised to the tune of EUR13.7m. Bonduelle escaped a fine of around EUR250m for revealing the existence of the cartel. All three companies had also exchanged "commercially sensitive information", the Commission said.

EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who is in charge of competition policy, said: "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. 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."

The Commission's investigation revealed the existence of a single infringement comprising three separate agreements.

One deal covered private-label sales of canned vegetables such as green beans, peas, and mixed peas and carrots to retailers in the EEA. Another concerned private-label sales of canned sweetcorn to retailers. A third covered both own brands and private-label sales of canned vegetables to retailers and to the foodservice industry, specifically in France.

Coroos participated only in the first agreement while Bonduelle and Groupe CECAB participated in all three, the Commission said.

Another company in Italy, Conserve Italia, is also under investigation.

"In the context of the same investigation, the Commission opened proceedings against a fourth company, Conserve Italia. Conserve Italia is not covered by this settlement decision and therefore the investigation will continue under the standard (non-settlement) cartel procedure for this company," the Commission added.