General Mills exposes illegal dairy product price-fixing scheme

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Yogurt price-fixing is apparently a thing – an illegal thing, to be more precise.

And a case of such collusion got 11 French dairy companies in huge trouble, thanks to the whistle blowing of a Minnesota company.

The Wall Street Journal reports General Mills reported the cartel to the France's Competition Authority shortly after it purchased Yoplait back in 2012. Yoplait was described as a crucial part of the 11-company operation.

Those involved were fined a total of 193 million Euros (about $203 million). The largest single fine was 56.1 million Euros ($58.7 million).

Yoplait was not fined anything because they were the first to come forward to authorities.

So what happened, exactly?

Here's the actual ruling. (Note: Unsurprisingly, it's in French.) Thanks to the wonder of Google Translate, here are some of the key points.

The companies involved controlled more than 90 percent of the fresh dairy grocery market in France.

Officials cooperated to agree on pricing in the stores and supermarkets, often using phones intentionally set up to hide who was using them. Meetings were also held in hotel rooms or cafes. This type of price-fixing lasted from 2006 to 2012.

Between them, the cartel fixed the prices of yogurt, fresh cheese, fresh cream and dairy dessert products.

The Associated Press and Wall Street Journal both describe the tactics in greater detail.

The Competition Authority, in the ruling's press release, said the collusion disrupted the dairy market for years.

It said the sophisticated measures officials took to keep dealings a secret, combined with the broad impact (since so many people buy dairy products from those companies), means the penalties were fair.

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