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Bundeskartellamt imposes fines on coffee roasters

Date of issue: 21.12.2009

The Bundeskartellamt has imposed fines totaling approx. € 159.5 million on three coffee roasters and six employees responsible on the grounds of price fixing. The companies involved are Tchibo GmbH, Hamburg, Melitta Kaffee GmbH, Bremen, and Alois Dallmayr Kaffee oHG, Munich.

According to the Bundeskartellamt’s information, a discussion group made up of the directors and sales managers of the coffee roasters existed from at least early 2000 until the companies were searched in July 2008. The aim of the discussion group was to maintain the “price architecture” of the companies’ final sales prices and special offer prices for their major roasted coffee products (filter coffee, at times also whole bean products, espresso and coffee pads). To achieve this aim the coffee roasters agreed among themselves on the level, extent, date of announcement and implementation of the planned price increases; this particularly applied in the case of five price rises during 2003 and 2008. With the exception of the last increase in March/April 2008, all the price increases were implemented.

The agreements proved directly detrimental to the end consumer because the food retail sector generally passed on the price increases directly to the end consumer. Alone the two price increases announced in December 2004 and April 2005 resulted in an average increase in the final sales and special offer prices for roasted coffee of more than € 1 per 500g pack.

The orders imposing the fines are not yet final and can be appealed against at the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court, for its final decision.

Apart from the proceedings which have just been concluded, the Bundeskartellamt initiated further administrative offence proceedings in January 2009 against a large number of coffee roasters on suspicion of their having agreed prices for coffee for their coffee for the away-from-home-market (catering sector, bulk buyers, etc.) and against several cappuccino producers on suspicion of their having agreed prices for cappucino. The conclusion of these proceedings is envisaged in the first half of next year. No further details on these proceedings can be currently provided since the investigations are still ongoing.