As a probe continues into the practices of French flour mills supplying commercial bakeries, France's anti-trust watchdog has this week hit those producers with a €149.4m fine over price fixing on packaged flour sold in supermarkets.
The French regulator, the Autorité de la Concurrence, also fined German and French millers €95.5m for a cartel aimed at limiting imports of flour between the two countries.
“Unannounced inspections conducted in France and in Germany (through the German competition authority, the Budeskartellamt) gathered many pieces of evidence of these anticompetitive agreements. These raids were followed by an in-depth investigation,” said the watchdog.
Commerical supply inquiry
In January 2010, the French anti-trust agency decided to conduct a separate inquiry into the supply of flour to the craft bakery sector.“These practices are currently being investigated and will be the subject of another decision in due course,” it stated yesterday.
A spokesperson for the French regulator told this publication that as the probe into the practices of supplying flour to the industrial sector is still underway, he could not comment further, but he added that “certain pieces of evidence” gathered by the competition authority prompted its decision in early 2010 to dig deeper into the supply of flour to bakery and food manufacturers.
Both the French flour millers trade group - Association Nationale de la Meunerie Française - and the European Flour Millers Association declined to comment on the penalties, when approached to do so by this publication.
The French regulator added that anti-trust agencies in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands are conducting ongoing investigations into the practices of flour producers in those markets.
Dutch flour cartel
In December 2010, the Dutch Competition Authority - NMa - imposed fines totaling €81.6m on 15 producers of flour in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.
According to the NMa, between 2001 and 2007 the parties divided the market between them, agreeing not to compete for each other’s customers and also compensated a participant in the cartel for revenue losses in order to avoid stronger competition.
The allegations also included the joint buying of a competitor outside the cartel in order to reduce competition, and the (indirect) joint acquisition and subsequent dismantling of a flour mill to avoid market entry by a new competitor.
Meanwhile, last week saw the French competition authority hit endive farmers with sanctions over what it reported was collusion since 1998 to keep prices of the vegetable buoyant. The regulator imposed fines of almost €4m on 11 farmers and seven producer unions and associations.
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