Germany: Carlsberg pays EUR 50 million fine for price fixing

Carlsberg was fined EUR 50 million (USD 55m) for alleged price fixing. The Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf today finally ended the lawsuit against Carlsberg in connection with an alleged "beer cartel". After the public prosecutor's office and the cartel office demanded a fine of EUR 53 million, the chamber reduced the demanded fine to EUR 50 million.

The proceedings related to alleged agreements in a Hamburg hotel in 2007 accompanying the Internorga trade fair at the time. Fines totaling around EUR 340 million were imposed. Radeberger Group, the leading beer group in Germany, paid EUR 120 million alone.

Unlike the other brewery groups, Carlsberg lodged an objection and did not want to shell out the original 62 million euros - but risked an increase in the fines in the further proceedings. What then followed was a sometimes absurd chain of negotiations: discontinuation of the proceedings (due to the statute of limitations), resumption, termination due to illness, renewed resumption.

Despite all the inconveniences, Carlsberg can consider the verdict a success. On the one hand, the original sentence was significantly reduced and, on the other hand, the brewery did not have to confess. However, the Düsseldorf judgment is not an acquittal either.

The proceedings against the former Carlsberg manager Wolfgang Burgard had already been discontinued.

The official statement today is that the Senate is "convinced that the then managing director of Carlsberg Deutschland Holding GmbH took part in an exchange of information that violated antitrust law.

“On March 12, 2007, the managing director met at the Internorga trade fair in the Side Hotel Hamburg together with the management of the breweries Anheuser-Busch InBev Germany Holding GmbH, C. & A. Veltins GmbH & Co. KG, Bitburger Braugruppe GmbH, Warsteiner Brewery Haus Cramer KG and Radeberger Gruppe KG met.

„During the meeting, a timely price increase due to the sharp rise in raw material costs was discussed. After a discussion, those present agreed that the beer price increase should be around six euros per hectoliter, which, plus sales tax and retailer's margin, means around one euro per "standard crate" (20 bottles of 0.5 liters each) for the end consumer. The increase should be enforced in the catering trade and in the food retail trade.

“Ultimately, however, no decision had been made. First of all, the person responsible for the Krombacher brewery, Bernhard Schadeberg GmbH & Co. KG, should be spoken to as to whether Krombacher also wants to increase the beer price. In the event of a beer price increase without the Krombacher brewery, the brewery representatives feared high sales and volume losses.

“The then managing director of Carlsberg Deutschland Holding GmbH used the knowledge from the meeting of March 12, 2007 and was able to adjust the market behavior of the brewery on the basis of the non-public information found there. In this way, he was able to act more confidently towards the Danish parent company and push through the price increase in 2008 more easily and more definitely with the catering and food retail trade.

“When assessing the fine, the Senate took into account in favor of Carlsberg Deutschland Holding GmbH that the verdict was based on an agreement and that further investigations into sales and company relationships could therefore be omitted. In addition, the length of the proceedings and the fact that antitrust regulations were violated only once and a long time ago had a mitigating effect. The nationwide, area-wide effect of the exchange of information had to be taken into account at the expense of those affected."

It is unlikely that Carlsberg and/or the public prosecutor's office will now bring the cartel office before the Federal Court of Justice, since the amount of the penalty corresponds to an agreement between the parties, which was also confirmed by the Higher Regional Court.

The head of Carlsberg Germany is the Dane Simon Mosegaard Fibiger, 38. In January, he temporarily took over the business of the three million hectoliter strong brewing group after his predecessor Sebastian Holtz, 44 announced to become Managing Director Sales and Marketing of the Bitburger brewing group from January 2024 in order to complete the three-man management team. One month ago, Fibiger was confirmed as permanent head of Carlsberg's German unit.

Fibiger has been with Carlsberg for over twelve years, most recently as Commercial Vice President Western Europe, and is now leaving Copenhagen to move to Hamburg with his wife and three children. He announced that a focus under his leadership will be on beer mixes, reduced alcohol and non-alcoholic beers.

Share this article: