However, Chiquita, Dole and Weichert were deemed guilty of co-ordinating quota prices in eight EU states. The Commission fined Dole and Weichert a total of €60m (£47m), while Chiquita was spared a fine as it was the whistleblower. A senior source in the UK banana industry claimed there was little chance of any UK companies being found guilty of price collusion. The authorities only had to look at the low prices suppliers were receiving to realise no price manipulation had taken place, he said.
“If there were a cartel here then it would have been a singularly bad one,” the source joked. Fyffes was pleased to have been exonerated by the investigation, said a company spokesman.
The European cartel, which operated between 2000 and 2002, involved bilateral phone calls between the companies involved, usually the day before they set their price, said the Commission.
During those calls they discussed pricing intentions, how they saw the price evolving and whether they intended to maintain, decrease or increase the quotation price. Their actions affected the €2.5bn banana market in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Sweden. However, retailers could now bring a case for damages to recover their losses, according to one importer. Under European competition law, any person or business that feels it has been affected by anti-competitive behaviour can seek damages.
“If people can make a claim against airlines accused of fixing ticket prices, why shouldn’t that principle extend to this?” the importer said.