Gummi-bear manufacturer Haribo has been fined €2.4m by German antitrust authorities for exchanging sales information with competitors.
Haribo’s transgressions came to the attention of German cartel office Bundeskartellamt following a tip-off from chocolate giant Mars.
Haribo was rebuked for discussing sales information with three unnamed competitors.
Haribo has indicated in a news release on its German website that the three other companies were “chocolate manufacturers”.
Secret meets with sales staff
The German cartel office said that senior Haribo sales staff had regularly met with counterparts from three other companies in so-called “four-party talks” between 2006 and 2007.
During these discussions the companies exchanged information about the state of negotiations with major retailers in order to gain a competitive advantage. This type of information is normally treated as strictly confidential.
Andreas Mundt, president of the Bundeskartellamt, said: "Certain types of information exchange between competitors are inadmissible under competition law. Competition is impaired by such practices, even if they are not classical hardcore agreements about prices, supply areas, customers or quotas."
Mars’ German business had filed a leniency application to Bundeskartellamt informing it of Haribo’s secret discussions. It has escaped any reproof for the notifying the authorities.
The proceedings against Haribo ended by settlement. Haribo has the right to appeal to the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court. Reports suggest it will not appeal.
Other dirty tricks
Last year, the German cartel office issued fines on Kraft Foods, Unilever and Dr Oetker totalling €38m for illegal disclosure of ‘competition relevant information’. (See HERE )
The three companies met across several years to discuss negotiations with retailers on products including confectionery.
The German regulators also raided the offices of Nestlé, Mars and Kraft in 2008 in an investigation into alleged chocolate price fixing. This seperate investigation is still ongoing.
In another case, the Canadian Competition Bureau is currently investigating chocolate price fixing allegations in Canada from 2007.
Hershey, Nestlé, Mars and Cadbury have also recently been hit with an antitrust lawsuit in the US that claims the companies conspired together to fix chocolate prices in the US between 2002 and 2008. (See HERE )