To pursue at all costs its policy of the lowest prices of large distribution, in the name of the defense of purchasing power, Leclerc has again stumbled. In a statement issued Sunday (July 21st), the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, and his Secretary of State, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, announced the judicial summons of several entities of the group to ask for a record fine of 117.3 million euros, confirming information from Le Figaro .
To justify its decision against the French number one retailer, Bercy relies on a thorough investigation of the Directorate General of Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF). In early 2018, it was seized by various suppliers Leclerc. They accused its French central purchasing Galec and two other bases in Belgium, Eurelec and Scabel, which include orders from super- and hypermarkets, to use illegal means to lower prices, including threats – and updates. execution – dereferencing in the rays.
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“This is a very sophisticated investigation conducted by more than twenty agents: 5,000 messages and 8,000 pages of documents were seized during the searches , which took place in February 2018, details Ms. Pannier-Runacher. The fine is high, because there are many indications of a deliberate intention to circumvent French law to impose unrequited price cuts on suppliers. ” It is, she says, ” three times the amount of overpayments received by Leclerc ” , which was 39 million.
An amount that does not include repayments of indus and without comparison with the few million claimed so far. It sends a strong signal: farmers and agri-food manufacturers consider the fines too painless to stop these bad practices.
In its defense, the retail giant recalls that the negotiations concerned do not concern SMEs or the agricultural world. “We can not forbid companies to buy in Europe , says the World CEO Michel-Edouard Leclerc, pointing out that such contracts involve outright purchases with” the twelve largest companies ” such as Nestlé, Mondelēz, Procter & Gamble or Unilever.
“A gift made to multinationals”
For the president of the E. Leclerc centers, the government “is looking for scapegoats in a media mess” and “to blame E. Leclerc for the failure of the Egalim law” on food that came into effect in January. ” And to increase prices at Leclerc,” laments the leader, who considers this assignment as “a gift to multinationals . ”
In Bercy, we reply by pointing to the growing relocation of trade negotiations to Belgium. “We went from four industry groups in 2017 to 14 in 2018 and 27 this year,” notes the Secretary of State. The government does not want to stop there to track down these abusive business practices. “We are paying particular attention to central purchasing, not just Leclerc. Further investigations are underway, ” emphasizes M me Pannier-Runacher. It is the whole philosophy of the Egalim law that is at stake: finding an economic balance between the agricultural world, the agri-food industry and large-scale distribution, in particular to allow an increase in the income of certain farmers.
E. Leclerc had been the least conciliatory of major brands in the debates preceding this law. This is not the first time he is in the line of sight of Bercy. In June 2018, he had summoned her to the Paris Commercial Court, demanding a fine of 25 million and a refund of 83 million, or 108 million.
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After three years of investigation (2015-2017), the DGCCRF discovered that the group imposed price discounts of 10% to twenty of its suppliers in addition to that provided for in their contracts, without any commercial counterpart (advertising, implementation). before products in store …). These additional rebates were imposed on manufacturers of major food brands sold at Lidl, a competitor that E. Leclerc fears low prices. Justice still has to decide on this case.
In 2015, judges had already sanctioned the sign. The court of appeal had then condemned to repay 61.3 million to 48 suppliers (Bonduelle, Ferrero, Jacquet …) for sums improperly collected at end-of-year discounts. Rebate applications which, for justice, created a “significant imbalance” between the manufacturers and the brand, for the benefit of the latter. The reimbursement of these sums was accompanied by a fine of 2 million euros.