German competition authorities have imposed fines totalling EUR38m (US$53.2m) on three food companies – Kraft Foods, Unilever and Dr. Oetker – for illegally sharing “competition-relevant information”.

In a statement released today (17 March), the Bundeskartellamt said that the fines were imposed after information was provided to the competition regulator by Mars Inc, who made an application for leniency. Under the Bundeskartellamt’s leniency programme, Mars avoided being fined.

The four companies – along with Henkel, whose actions have been seperately dealt with – met regularly over a period of “several years” in a discussion group, where high-ranking sales executives divulged information on the state of negotiations between their companies and “several major retailers” and on plans to increase prices. The competition watchdog concluded that these meetings could have reduced competition in a number of product areas, including confectionery, ice cream, ready-to-eat meals and frozen pizza.

“The branded goods manufacturers participating in the group sat face-to-face with their main rivals at these meetings. Knowledge of prospective requests of the retail trade and reactions of the major competitors to these could have influenced the manufacturers’ behaviour to the same extent as information on price increases planned by their competitors. This type of information is usually treated by the companies with strict confidence,” the Bundeskartellamt said.

While the fines can be appealed, the Bundeskartellamt said that all the companies involved have agreed to have the proceedings.

Dr Oetker declined to comment, while Kraft, Mars and Unilever were unavailable for comment at time of press.