Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to Conserve Italia for participation in canned vegetables cartel

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


The European Commission has informed Conserve Italia Soc. coop. Agricola and its subsidiary Conserves France SA (together referred to as Conserve Italia) of its preliminary view that they have breached EU antitrust rules by colluding to distort competition in the market for canned vegetables in the European Economic Area (EEA).

Conserve Italia is an Italian agricultural cooperative producing amongst other products canned vegetables. The Commission has concerns that Conserve Italia may have colluded with other market participants within the EEA to fix selling prices, share markets and allocate customers for the supply of certain types of canned vegetables (under own brands or under private labels) to retailers and/or food service companies. In particular, the Commission suspects that Conserve Italia has participated in horizontal price fixing and market sharing agreements, through which they coordinated their commercial conduct with other market participants, for several consecutive years.

If the Commission’s preliminary view were confirmed, such behaviour would violate EU rules that prohibit anti-competitive business practices such as collusion on prices and market sharing (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement).

The sending of a Statement of Objections does not prejudge the outcome of an investigation.

Background

In September 2019, the Commission adopted a settlement decision against Bonduelle, Coroos and Groupe CECAB, finding that the three companies participated for more than 13 years in a cartel for the supply of certain types of canned vegetables to retailers and/or food service companies in the EEA. The Commission’s investigation had started with unannounced inspections in October 2013. The three companies admitted their involvement in the cartel and total fines of €31.6 million were imposed.

In the context of the same investigation, the Commission opened proceedings against a fourth company, Conserve Italia. Conserve Italia was not covered by the September 2019 settlement decision and therefore, the investigation concerning this company continued under the standard (non-settlement) cartel procedure.

A Statement of Objections is a formal step in Commission investigations into suspected violations of EU rules on restrictive business practices. The Commission informs the parties concerned in writing of the objections raised against them. The parties can then examine the documents in the Commission’s investigation file, reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present their comments on the case before representatives of the Commission and national competition authorities.

If, after the parties have exercised their rights of defence, the Commission concludes that there is sufficient evidence of an infringement, it can adopt a decision prohibiting the conduct and imposing a fine of up to 10% of a company’s annual worldwide turnover.

There is no legal deadline for the Commission to complete antitrust inquiries into anticompetitive conduct. The duration of an antitrust investigation depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the case, the extent to which the undertaking concerned cooperates with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.

More information is available under the case number AT.40127 in the public case register on the Commission’s competition website.

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