Unilever, Kraft Foods and Dr Oetker have been fined €38m (£33m) by German competition regulators over allegations they illicitly shared commercially sensitive information.

The fine is the result of an investigation by the German federal cartel office, which was launched after Mars Germany approached regulators offering to give evidence for the prosecution. The cartel office said Mars Germany would not face any fines.

The €38m fine has been imposed on the German subsidiaries of Unilever and Kraft – Kraft Foods Deutschland AG and Unilever Deutschland Holding AG – as well as Dr. August Oetker Nahrungsmittel KG.

A fourth, unnamed, company continues to be under investigation, regulators said.

Andreas Mundt, president of the German federal cartel office, said certain forms of information sharing between competitors were not allowed under competition law.

“Such behaviour impacts competition even if it does not involve classic ‘hardcore’ agreements on prices, areas, customers or quotas,” he said.

According to the cartel office, the companies under investigation held meetings over several years, during which high-ranking executives exchanged information about their negotiations with several large retail chains.

For some products, the companies also shared information about planned price increases, the cartel office said.

The companies can appeal against the fine, but the cartel office said all had decided to settle instead. Unilever confirmed it had settled but stressed the cartel office’s investigations focused on information exchanged in 2006 and did “not concern ongoing operations”.

Kraft Foods Deutschland also confirmed it had settled, while Dr Oetker declined to comment.

Read more
Kraft brass can’t rule out more Cadbury job cuts (16 March 2011)