UK retailers say Norway’s salmon cartel cost them £675m

ASDA supermarket store front

Price-fixing by Norway’s biggest salmon producers cost the UK retailers now suing them £675m. That’s the claim made by the seven supermarket chains that have filed a claim with the UK’s Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT).

It emerged last week, thanks to a trading update from Lerøy Seafood, that a number of UK retailers are taking legal action against the Norwegian companies over alleged anti-competitive practices, following a “preliminary assessment” last month from the European Commission.

A document lodged with the CAT now shows that the seven chains bringing the latest legal action are Asda, Iceland, Wm Morrison, Marks and Spencer, Aldi, Ocado and the Co-operative Group. Distributor International Seafoods, part of the Wm Morrison group, is also joining in the claim.

The claimants and their subsidiaries comprise seven of the largest supermarkets in the UK, together representing over 44% of the UK grocery market with total estimated combined purchases of farmed Atlantic salmon of around £1.7bn during the period in question.

The claim, under Section 47a of the Competition Act 1998, is for damages arising from “…alleged unlawful cartel arrangements entered into and/or implemented by at least the Defendants in relation to the supply of farmed Atlantic salmon.”

The named businesses alleged to have colluded in fixing market prices are Bremnes Seashore, Cermaq, Grieg, Lerøy, SalMar, Mowi and their respective UK subsidiaries. All have previously denied the cartel allegations set out by the European Commission.

The latest claim document says: “The effects of the cartel extended downstream through the supply chain, affecting secondary processed products made from farmed Atlantic Salmon, such as smoked or frozen salmon and ready to eat salmon products.”

The documents says that it is likely that the unlawful collusion continued from 2011 through to February 2019, but the “run-off” effect on long-standing contracts is likely to have gone on for much longer than that. It also anticipates that the European Commission will find the defendants liable for one or more infringements of competition law.

Last year five of the companies (Mowi, Leroy, Cermaq, SalMar and Grieg) settled broadly similar claims in the United States and Canada, choosing to end the legal action by paying out several million dollars. They continued to deny any liability.

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