The Autorité de la concurrence has imposed a fine of more than 130 million euros on the supermarkets Auchan, E. Leclerc, Modelo Continente and Pingo Doce as well as on the common supplier Unilever, for an agreement on selling prices to consumers.
In a press release published on Wednesday, the Competition Authority (AdC) announced that it had sanctioned four supermarket chains – Auchan, E. Leclerc, Modelo Continente (Sonae group) and Pingo Doce (Jerónimo Martins group) -, as well as the joint supplier of food, homecare and personal care products Unilever, with participation “in a system of selling prices to the consumer (PVP) for the products of this supplier”.
“The investigation has led to the conclusion that, through contacts established through the common supplier, without the need to communicate directly with each other, the participating distribution companies ensure the alignment of retail prices in their supermarkets, in a conspiracy amounting to a cartel, known in competition law terminology as ‘hub-and-spoke'”, details the AdC, in the note.
The decision results in a total fine of 132 million euros. Auchan was fined €16.19 million, Modelo Continente was fined €50.8 million and Pingo Doce was fined €35.7 million. Unilever will have to pay 26.6 million euros and E.Leclerc 2.9 million euros.
According to the AdC, this “practice eliminates competition, depriving consumers of the option of better prices, but ensuring better levels of profitability for the entire distribution chain, including supplier and supermarket chains” .
The regulator recalls that in November 2021, it adopted the “note of illegality (indictment) in this case, having given the possibility to all companies to exercise their rights of hearing and defense, which was duly taken into account in the final decision”.
“In this case, the AdC determined that the practice lasted nearly ten years – between 2007 and 2017 – and targeted several of the supplier’s products in the areas of food, home care and personal care, such as as detergents, deodorants, ice creams, sauces and teas”, refers.
She also explains that since the search and seizure procedures launched in 2017 in companies in the retail sector, she has already sanctioned six supermarket chains, as well as seven joint suppliers for the anti-competitive practice of “hub-and-spoke”. “.
The AdC recalls that this is the seventh sanction decision in the investigations carried out in supermarkets, after the search and seizure procedures in 2017, which have already resulted in fines totaling more than 645 million euros. .
Auchan “totally refutes” the practices alleged by the Competition and will appeal
In a statement sent to Lusa, an official source from Auchan declared that it “totally refutes the practices attributed to it by the Competition Authority in the final decision in the context of the administrative infringement procedure and will appeal of the decision adopted before the court, naturally exercising the rights provided for by competition law. “.
“Auchan recalls that all training and control processes for its employees are carried out internally in order to avoid any type of behavior that could lead to a violation of competition rules,” said the same source.