Bulgaria’s competition body targets retail chains, producers in probes into alleged food prices collusion

Bulgaria’s Consumer Protection Commission (CPC) said on March 23 that it had initiated three proceedings to investigate alleged collusion on food prices, naming a number of supermarket chains, food producers and processors as part of the investigation.

It listed the Association for Modern Trade, which represents major retailers in Bulgaria, as among those under investigation.

The CPC also listed Billa Bulgaria, Lidl Bulgaria, Kaufland Bulgaria, Maxima Bulgaria, Promarket, the Fantastico Group and Metro Cash and Carry Bulgaria.

Others named in the CPC statement were the Union of Poultry Breeders in Bulgaria, the Industrial Poultry Breeding Association, Association of Dairy Processors in Bulgaria and the National Association of Dairy Processors.

The CPC said that it earlier carried out surprise on-site inspections at the offices of Lidl Bulgaria, the Union of Poultry Breeders in Bulgaria and the National Association of Dairy Processors.

“Copies of documents and electronic correspondence were seized from the offices, which the commission is yet to analyse in detail, with a view to establishing the existence of exchange of sensitive commercial information or coordinated market behaviour between producers, traders and their associations in the food sector,” the CPC said.

It said that the standards for establishing antitrust violations required the CPC to gather a large amount of data, to be able to perform an economic and legal analysis, and this could not be done quickly.

The CPC said that even though this was a large-scale investigation, given the public interest in the matter, it would carry it out in the shortest possible time.

On completing the investigation, the commission would use the powers given to it by law, including sanctioning violators, the statement said.

On March 19, Association for Modern Trade executive director Nikolai Vulkanov told Bulgarian National Radio that most of the fines issued by the CPC following inspections between February 15 and March 8 would not survive being challenged in court.

“In no way can we talk about unfair commercial practices, but about human error,” Vulkanov said.

He said that in 60 per cent of the CPC inspections of the association’s members, no problems had been found, and in only 15 per cent was there documentation that required additional explanation.

“From what we have been able to gather from our members there is no question of bad practices,” Vulkanov said.

“It is not necessary to lightly stick labels on an entire branch of the economy,” he said.

(Photo: Daniel Case, via Wikimedia Commons)

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