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The French agri-food cooperative group Cooperl threatens to close several factories



           


Cooperl fears for its survival if it has to pay the fine imposed by the Competition Authority (photo: DR).
Cooperl fears for its survival if it has to pay the fine imposed by the Competition Authority (photo: DR).
FRANCE. Convicted in the so-called "ham cartel" case in July 2020, Cooperl (€2.4bn turnover and 7,200 employees in 2019) continues to proclaim its innocence. The Breton food-processing cooperative group based in Lamballe (Côtes-d'Armor) has been fined €35.5m by the French Competition Authority, the highest of the twelve companies in the ham and charcuterie sector sanctioned for a total of €93.03m.

Cooperl (brands Madrange, Paul Prédault, Jean Caby, Montagne noire, Brocéliande...) was found guilty of having, with its competitors, "presented a common front in their negotiations with slaughterers in order to counter demands for price increases on raw materials, or even obtain price reductions for the purchase of raw materials", the French Competition Authority said. They also agreed to work together "to adopt a common position on the price increases for charcuterie products that they intended to apply to supermarkets for private labels (private labels) or "first price" brands".

According to Emmanuel Commault, "this fine puts the group at risk (...) it virtually puts us in suspension of payment". The CEO of Cooperl states, in a press release published on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, that "the key piece (Editor's note: a phone call book) that led to the condemnation of these companies by the Competition Authority is a fake "fabricated from scratch"". In this case, Brocéliande and Cooperl filed a complaint for forgery, forgery, slanderous denunciation and fraudulent use of documents.

Factories and jobs threatened

"It seems to us urgent that awareness be raised at the highest level so that the rules of evidence before the Competition Authority evolve and receive a legal framework that is both adapted and specific... Indeed, the current practice implemented before the Competition Authority results in decisions that are taken on the basis of falsified documents and purely and simply defamatory and slanderous statements", underlines Patrice Drillet, chairman of the cooperative.

Although the Breton group has launched an appeal procedure, it does not exempt it from paying the sum in the coming days.
"We are financing ourselves to the tune of 200 million euros from supplier credits. If tomorrow these are reduced by 50%, we will be obliged to find an additional 100 million euros to finance our activity", insists Emmanuel Commault.
"If we are asked to pay in the coming days (...) we'll stop all recruitment, all investment projects and we'll embark on a tough restructuring plan (...) I'm not blackmailing you, we're playing for our survival. The plan is almost ready," he says.

At stake are hiring freezes, a halt to investments, wage cuts and the closure of some of its 27 industrial sites in France. The latter would be determined among the twelve plants (€900 million in sales and 2,500 employees in total) purchased when Brocéliande was taken over in 2010 and the assets of the Financière Turenne Lafayette holding company in 2017.


Frédéric Dubessy


Wednesday, October 21st 2020



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