Over EUR151m in fines have been handed out so far

Over EUR151m in fines have been handed out so far

German retailers Aldi, Edeka and Rewe - plus confectioners Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG and Haribo - are among the grocers and manufacturers to be hit with fines after a probe into allegations of price fixing.

The Bundeskartellamt, the country's competition watchdog, said today (18 June) it had completed "most" of the cartel proceedings in sectors including confectionery, coffee, beer, pet food and body care.

The so-called "vertical case" proceedings began with dawn raids at 15 sites in January 2010 after information gained in separate horizontal cartel proceedings on allegations within confectionery and coffee.

Investigations involving pet food and body care products have been concluded. Proceedings against companies over allegations on prices of confectionery, coffee and beer continue. However, the Bundeskartellamt said today it has so far issued fines worth around EUR151.6m.

The watchdog said Edeka and Rewe had been fined for agreements with three manufacturers in two different product categories.

Fellow retailer Kaufland has been hit with a penalty for deals with three manufacturers in three categories.

The Bundeskartellamt said Aldi faces a fine for an agreement with one unnamed manufacturer in one sector.

In a separate statement, the discounter said it involved "price adjustments" in 2005 and 2008 demanded by Haribo.

German confectioner Ritter is among the manufacturers so far fined. Haribo received a reduction in its fine for co-operating with the investigation. Mars Inc's assistance meant it was granted immunity from a penalty.

"With its decisions the Bundeskartellamt has addressed practices in the food retail sector which constitute illegal resale price maintenance," the watchdog said in a statement. "These included influencing the setting of shop prices by the exertion of pressure by one of the contracting parties or granting monetary incentives as well as the coordination of retailer prices under the moderation of a manufacturer. In the cases fined these practices did not fulfil the conditions for an individual exemption. However, the case constellations and also the actions of the individual companies greatly varied in their severity. This led to substantial differences in the individual amount of fine imposed on the companies concerned."

Andreas Mundt, president of the Bundeskartellamt, added: "In the food retail sector, as in every other sector, retailers and manufacturers should generally not conclude agreements on shop prices to the detriment of end consumers. Manufacturers should not pressurise retailers or give them monetary incentives to maintain certain retail prices. Due to the large number of companies and business relations we had to examine in this case we focused on specific product categories and practices in our investigations. Ultimately we only punished those practices which constitute a clear restraint of competition and an explicit violation of competition law."

A spokesperson for Ritter said: "For more than five years, we have been busy with the accusations by the Bundeskartellamt. This bound many financial as well as manpower resources. Due to this situaiton and operating as a family-owned business we settled already a few months ago. However, we do not agree that a mid-size company as we are is capable of dictating to the big German traders their shelf prices."

In a statement, Haribo said: "In response to the accusations made by the federal German cartel authority, which are more than seven years old, at that point in time the parties concerned were unaware that their actions might be considered to be a breach of the law.

"The company reacted immediately and put a compliance management system in place in order to ensure that no further charges of this nature would be made.

"To prevent a prolonged legal battle, the lawsuit with the federal cartel authority has been concluded amicably in the interests of our personnel, our retail partners and our customers."