Fine proceedings for vertical price fixing in the German food retail sector concluded
The Bundeskartellamt has concluded its last three pending proceedings concerning vertical price fixing in the food retail sector. The authority imposed fines totalling 18.3 million euros on EDEKA Handelsgesellschaft Nord mbH, Neumünster, and EDEKA Handelsgesellschaft Hessenring mbH, Melsungen. The authority's findings showed that between 2006 and 2009 the two regional retailers were involved in price fixing agreements on the shop prices for beer products. The fines can still be appealed to the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court. With these last fines, a total of approx. 112 million euros has been imposed on eleven companies on account of price fixing agreements between the brewery Anheuser Busch InBev Germany Holding GmbH, Bremen, and various retailers (see also press release of 9 May 2016 and case summary (in German) of 14 December 2016).
Investigations against another company suspected of being engaged in the vertical price fixing of certain confectionery products have been terminated for discretionary reasons.
The series of proceedings on vertical price fixing in the food retail sector was one of the most extensive in the Bundeskartellamt's case practice (see also press release of 18 June 2015). In a vast number of fine proceedings food manufacturers and retailers were investigated for vertical price fixing. The nationwide dawn raids carried out in January 2010 focussed on the product categories confectionery, coffee and pet food. The area of investigation was extended to beer, body care products, baby food and baby cosmetics, after information provided by companies willing to cooperate with the authority and chance finds had yielded additional evidence. All in all, 38 individual fines were imposed on 27 companies. The total amount of the fines imposed was 260.5 million euros.
Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt:
"In the series of proceedings which has now been concluded, the Bundeskartellamt has punished what were clear-cut illegal and anti-consumer pricing practices in major product areas, and imposed fines on the retailers and brand manufacturers involved. We will publish the most important findings in a guidance note providing information on the scope of the prohibition of vertical price fixing in the food retail sector. With the guidance note we intend to provide the sector and anyone interested with practical examples of the possibilities and limits of coordination between retailers and manufacturers. The prosecution of vertical price fixing will continue to be an important part of the Bundeskartellamt's activities in the future."
Most of the fines imposed in the proceedings concerned infringements relating to confectionery, coffee and beer. In these cases, the infringements were particularly anti-competitive and anti-consumer, because horizontal agreements between the manufacturers, which were also sanctioned by the Bundeskartellamt, were accompanied by vertical price-fixing measures in which major retailers participated. The individual fines differed considerably depending on the gravity of the individual infringements and the involvement of the individual companies. The proceedings against some of the companies were terminated, partly for discretionary reasons, partly for lack of evidence.
The vast majority of the fines are already final. As yet, only the company Dirk Rossmann GmbH has appealed against the Bundeskartellamt's decision (vertical price fixing agreements for the sale of roasted coffee).