Reuters Frankfurt

More than 20 German sausage makers had been fined a total of about e338 million (R4.9 billion) for years of price-fixing, the country’s competition regulator said yesterday.

The hundreds of different types of sausage found on German supermarket shelves are a household staple, with average annual consumption at about 30kg per person.

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office said representatives of major firms had met regularly for decades to discuss market developments and prices.

“Prices were fixed over many years,” cartel office president Andreas Mundt said.

Particularly since 2003, there had been agreements between companies such as Wiesenhof, Ruegenwalder and Meica, most of which were privately held, in an attempt to make supermarkets pay sausage makers higher prices, the watchdog said.

“The total fine seems high at first glance but is put in perspective if you consider the large number of companies involved, the duration of the cartel and billions of euros of revenues the sector generates,” Mundt said.

The 21 companies and 33 individuals fined have two weeks to appeal the decision. Wiesenhof, Ruegenwalder and Meica were not immediately available for comment.

According to the German meat industry association, sausage production eased by 1.1 percent to 1.46 million tons last year, but the sector’s sales grew to e6.9bn as prices rose by 3.4 percent. In 2012, sausage prices rose 5.2 percent.

The fines on the sausage makers, ranging from a few hundred thousand euros to multimillion-euro sums, bring the total penalties handed out by the cartel office this year to almost e1bn – already an annual record, beating the e717m worth of fines that were handed out in 2003.