Secret meetings in hotels, repeated phone calls ... In defiance of all competition laws, twelve manufacturers of ham and cured meats were ordered Thursday to pay 93 million euros in total, by the Authority of competition, for price agreements between 2010 and 2013. Among the groups sanctioned after a long investigation of more than a year and a half: names well known to the general public such as the Fleury Michon group, or Les Mousquetaires (Intermarché, Netto).
An agreement against producers of raw materials ...
These are actually two separate agreements that were updated by the investigators, two agreements that allowed this "ham cartel" to ensure its margins from the supermarket till the slaughterhouse. And this is precisely where the first agreement came into play: "The seasonal butchers contacted each other by telephone before negotiations with the slaughterers began, generally on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning, in order to reach a common negotiating position ", describes the Authority in a press release.
... and an agreement on shelf prices
The second agreement concerned negotiations with large retailers, with an identical principle: to agree on a sale price below which one should not go down. Competition Authority investigators have established that the deli brands made multiple phone calls and held at least six ultra-secret multilateral meetings in two hotels, one in Paris and the other near Lyon.
Two parties revealed the deals
These agreements could certainly have lasted a few more years, if several parties concerned had not revealed the pot-aux-roses, within the framework of the so-called "leniency" procedure, which allows "companies having participated in a cartel of disclose its existence to the Authority and obtain, under certain conditions, the benefit of a total or partial exemption from a financial penalty ", details the Competition Authority.
"In the present case, two groups, Campofrio (Aosta, Jean Gaby) and Coop, asked for leniency and brought elements to the investigation," the statement said. They were nevertheless sanctioned, up to one and six million euros respectively. Campofrio's leniency request dates back to October 2012. The strongest sanction (35.5 million euros) is aimed at the French leader in pork production, the Cooperl cooperative, which has six sites involved in the manufacture of delicatessen.
Cooperative which also qualified the affair as "manipulation": "This decision sanctions in an extremely heavy way a cooperative group on the basis of elements as false as slanderous which were created from scratch by a competing group." Very well known to the general public, the Fleury Michon group was fined almost 14.8 million euros.
A precedent in the pig sector
It is not the first time that the pork sector has been in the crosshairs of the competition authority. On February 13, 2013, the latter had fined five Breton slaughterhouses for 4.5 million euros for having "reduced their pig slaughterings in a coordinated manner" in 2009 in order to lower the price of meat paid to breeders .