On 27 September 2019, the European Commission (“Commission”) fined Coroos and Groupe CECAB a total amount of EUR 31.647 million for participating in a canned vegetable cartel for over 13 years, while the third participant, Bonduelle received full immunity as a whistleblower.
According to the Commission, the cartel was formed with the aim of preserving and/or strengthening the participants’ position on the market, maintaining and/or increasing selling prices, reducing uncertainty regarding their future commercial conduct and formulate and controlling marketing and trading conditions to their advantage.
During the 13-year long cartel agreement, the participants set prices, agreed on market shares and volume quotas, allocated customers and markets, coordinated their replies to tenders, and exchanged commercially sensitive information.
The Commission’s investigation showed that there was a single infringement consisting of three separate agreements:
- An agreement concerning private label sales of canned vegetables to retailers in Europe;
- An agreement concerning private label sales of maize preserves to retailers in Europe;
- An agreement concerning both sales under own brand and private label sales of canned vegetables to retailers and to the hospitality sector specifically in France.
Bonduelle and Groupe CECAB participated in all three restrictive agreements, while Coroos participated only in the first agreement. When faced with charges, all three companies admitted their involvement in the cartel and negotiated their settlements with the Commission.
Bonduelle should have been imposed with the largest fine, amounting to around EUR 250 million for the infringement but avoided the fine completely by disclosing the existence of the cartel. On the other hand, Coroos and Group CECAB received a 15% and 30% fine reduction respectively for cooperating with the Commission. In addition, both Coroos and Group CECAB received a further 10% reduction each, for their admittance of the participation in the cartel. In the end, Coroos was fined a total of EUR 13.647 million, and Group CECAB with EUR 18 million.
As part of the same investigation, the Commission opened proceedings against a fourth company, Conserve Italia, pending further investigation under the standard, non-settlement cartel procedure