The European Commission's competition authorities have approved the creation of a joint venture between the French companies, Bongrain and Sodiaal, which will produce and market Camembert, Coulommiers and brie cheeses.

Following its market investigation, the Commission concluded that the transaction would "not significantly impede effective competition in the European Economic Area (EEA) or a significant part of it".

Bongrain and Sodiaal both produce soft cheeses and have submitted a proposal to pool their know-how as regards producing and marketing camembert, coulommiers and brie.

Bongrain (owner of the Caprice des Dieux brand, which is not concerned by this operation) is contributing its Cœur de Lion brand, while Sodiaal is transferring its Le Rustique brand. As well as these manufacturer brands, the joint venture will also include the production of camembert, coulommiers and brie sold under retailer brands.

This operation concerns the French and Belgian markets and, to a lesser extent, the German, Austrian, Hungarian, Polish and Czech markets.

"The different ways in which these markets work as regards manufacturer and retailer brands justifies separate treatment and the Commission has tried to define product markets taking specific national features into account," the Commission said in a statement.

"As regards the French and Belgian markets, the market investigation showed that consumers are very sensitive to types of cheese and that any price increase on manufacturer-brand camembert would lead consumers to move over to retailer-brand camembert rather than to manufacturer-brand coulommiers or brie. German consumers, however, do not generally distinguish between camembert and brie. A more general market definition therefore seems justified for Germany. The Commission has reached similar conclusions for Austria, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic."

The statement continued: "In the French and Belgian manufacturer-brand camembert markets, the Commission study showed that the new joint venture would still be behind the current market leader, Lactalis, and that their brands are not currently in direct competition."