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French Endive Growers Fined 3.65 Million Euros

March 6 (Bloomberg) -- French growers of endives were fined 3.65 million euros ($4.8 million) for fixing prices over a 14-year period, France’s antitrust regulator said.

The Autorite de la Concurrence fined 11 producer groups for setting minimum endive prices, according to documents handed out at a meeting in Paris today. Seven industry associations and unions were fined a further 320,000 euros for the price fixing.

Endives, used in salads and stews, are the fourth-most consumed vegetable in France, according to the antitrust watchdog. Annual sales of the vegetable in France, the world’s biggest grower, are about 135 million euros a year, it said.

“The competition authority has put an end to a collusion between endive producers and several of their professional organizations which, through varying means, maintained minimum prices for 14 years,” the regulator wrote.

French endive growers cooperated since at least 1998 through measures including mandated minimum prices, compulsory destruction of produce and a computer system to exchange real-time price information, according to the competition authority. The growers were aware their actions were illegal and agreed on secrecy, the regulator said.

The impact of price fixing on consumers was limited by the purchasing power of supermarket chains, which account for more than 75 percent of French endive sales, the authority said.

The regulator audited endive growers after the Finance Ministry asked it to look into the industry in 2008. The most-consumed vegetables in France are melons, lettuce and tomatoes, according to the Autorite de la Concurrence.

France produced 207,878 metric tons of endives in 2010, making it the biggest European Union grower ahead of Belgium and the Netherlands, according to the regulator. The country exported 15,231 tons of the vegetable, with Italy accounting for 47 percent of shipments, followed by Germany with 34 percent.

World endive production is about 450,000 tons, of which the EU grows 350,000 tons, the antitrust watchdog said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris at rruitenberg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at ccarpenter2@bloomberg.net

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