£136m fines for yoghurt cartel over price-fixing pact
Documents in a ruling by the French competition authority have revealed yoghurt execs had been meeting in hotel rooms and apartments to fix prices and share commercial strategies - co-ordinating price increases on 90% of the French yoghurt market for six years.
Ten of the 11 companies were fined £136m for souring competition between 2006 and 2012. Yoplait escaped a penalty for blowing the whistle on the practice after a US company, General Mills, bought the brand in 2011.
Another company, Senagral, also participated in the whistleblower scheme and received a reduced penalty.
The dairy cartel represented 90% of France's market for private-label fresh dairy products including yoghurt, fromage frais, creme fraiche, and dairy desserts.
According to court documents, yoghurt bosses used secret mobile phones to meet in different locations each time in order to avoid detection.
The four brands at the heart of the cartel were Yoplait, Lactalis, Novandie and Senoble. Representatives from the companies would meet at Au Chien Qui Fume, a historic Paris cafe, and sometimes retire to one of the executive's apartments to keep talking over cigarettes.
Lactalis Nestle said it obeyed all laws and that the fines "overestimate in an obvious way the gravity of what happened, and their impact on the economy".
One of the 11 companies involved, Laiterie de Saint Mal, said it would appeal the charges.
Yoplait is the second largest yoghurt producer in the world after Danone, which was not part of the cartel.