The French milk leaders targeted by an investigation by the Competition Authority

The French milk leaders targeted by an investigation by the Competition Authority

Descent among the major French milk manufacturers, including the number one Lactalis: the Competition Authority announced on Friday that it was investigating potentially “anti-competitive” practices in the collection of cow’s milk.

The Authority’s investigation services proceeded on Thursday, “after authorization from a judge of freedoms and detention, to unannounced visit and seizure operations with companies suspected of having implemented anti-competitive practices in the cow’s milk supply sector”.

“At this stage, these interventions obviously do not prejudge the guilt of the companies concerned by the alleged practices, which only an investigation on the merits will make it possible to establish, if necessary”, she adds in a press release.

The Autorité does not mention the name of any of the companies concerned. Asked by AFP, she did not wish to say more.

“There were seizures of documents at Sodiaal, Savencia, Eurial and Lactalis,” a concerned industrialist told AFP, confirming information from Le Figaro.

Together, these four companies collect more than two-thirds of French milk.

“We confirm the visit yesterday [jeudi] of the Autorité de la concurrence in our offices in Paris. At this stage, we cannot comment on the reasons for this visit. We are calm, and we are at the disposal of the authorities”, reacted Sodiaal in a press release.

The leading French dairy cooperative (20% of the collection) notably produces Candia milk and Yoplait yoghurts.

A spokesperson for the Agrial cooperative group confirmed to AFP the visit of the Authority’s inspectors to the premises of its milk branch, Eurial, which notably manufactures Soignon cheese.

Asked, the number one milk Lactalis (brands President, Lactel…) did not wish to comment and Savencia (Caprice des Dieux, St Môret…) did not respond.

The giant Danone, meanwhile, told AFP that it had not received a visit from the inspectors.

– “Old practice” –

“According to the information we have, the investigation is targeting an old practice called + collection agreements or cross-collection +”, says a player in the sector.

Its objective: to limit the kilometers traveled by trucks collecting milk from farms.

When they use it, manufacturers agree that the nearest dairy to a breeder collects his milk, even if he is under contract with a competitor.

The breeder is paid by the manufacturer with whom he has signed a commercial agreement. The two companies then do their accounts, and reimburse each other via a “re-invoicing” system.

“This is a solution found to facilitate the logistics of collection. Thousands of trucks collect milk every day in France, in areas that are sometimes difficult to access”, argues this source.

“The shorter the collection, the more you minimize the health risks”, defends the industrialist, speaking on condition of anonymity.

According to him, this arrangement also allows the breeder to choose the industrialist to whom he wishes to sell his milk, and not to select by default the closest to his farm.

On its website, the milk interprofession Cniel speaks of “exchanges of good practices between dairies”. She declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.

The Autorité de la concurrence notes that “companies not visited” can come forward with its “leniency programme”: companies which denounce their past or current membership of a cartel can benefit from favorable treatment, with “total immunity or part of the fine incurred”.

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