In July 2014, the Bundeskartellamt imposed fines of nearly 338 million euros on 21 sausage manufacturers as well as 33 individuals for concluding illegal price-fixing agreements in the German Wurst market over several decades.
The Bundeskartelamt uncovered documentary and other evidence which proved that well-known sausage manufacturers met regularly to discuss market developments and prices. They called themselves the "Atlantic Group", named after their first meeting place, the Hotel Atlantic in Hamburg.
Over and above the pricing agreements reached within the "Atlantic Group" meetings, a number of individual sausage manufacturers reached agreements in 2003 (and continued until the present) to jointly implement price increases for the sale of sausage products to retailers. Most of the agreements were made by telephone either by conference calls or organised ring-round calls. Due to the wide range of the products involved (different types of sausage, different package sizes, etc.) it was not possible to set specific prices for the individual products. Therefore the agreements set price ranges for product groups (raw, boiled and cooked sausage and ham). As a result of their agreements on price the manufacturers were able to demand higher prices for their products from their retail customers.
First indications of the cartel were received by the Bundeskatellamt through an anonymous tip-off. During the subsequent proceedings 11 companies fully cooperated with the authority and made confessions. Their cooperation was taken into account as a mitigating factor in the calculation of the fines. The fining decisions are not yet final and can be appealed within two weeks to the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court
Announcing the Bundeskartellamt decision in this case, Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt stated that: "The price-fixing agreements were practised over many years. The overall amount of fines seems high at first glance but has to be seen in perspective in view of the large number of companies involved, the duration of the cartel and the billions in turnover achieved in this market.
The Bundeskartellamt does not give any information about individual fines. However, the fines in this case range from a few hundred thousand euros to high amounts in millions. Important factors in the calculation of a fine includes the seriousness and duration of the infringement. The fine is based on the cartel-related turnover (i.e. the turnover achieved by the company with the products that were the subject of the cartel agreement) and the overall turnover of the company. The authority can fine up to 10% of the company’s overall turnover. Calculations to determine the overall turnover of the company must be based on the turnover of the whole corporate group to which the offending company belongs.