UK consumers also sue salmon producers for price fixing and collusion

Conducted against Mowi, SalMar, Lerøy, Scottish Sea Farms, and Grieg, the claim considers consumers "the principal victims of the cartel" and seeks compensation of up to GBP 382 million.
Woman shopping fresh salmon in supermarket retail store.

Plaintiffs claim that, as a result of the defendants' actions, prices for farmed Atlantic salmon in the UK rose to 20% higher than they otherwise would have been.

Photo: Adobe Stock.

UK consumers launch their own lawsuit for price-fixing and collusion against salmon producers. This is the second legal claim the salmon firms face in the United Kingdom after in March several major UK supermarkets sued them over alleged price-fixing following the official notification in January by the European Commission (EC) to six Norwegian salmon producers of its suspicion that they may have violated EU antitrust rules.

The supermarkets' lawsuit already included several British salmon farmers along with Norwegian ones. Now, consumers allege it was they and not the retailers who ultimately bore the majority of the expense of the artificial price increases between October 2015 and May 2019, when the UK was still within the EU. As a result, they are suing salmon companies Mowi, Mowi Holdings, SalMar, Lerøy Seafood, Scottish Sea Farms, and Grieg Seafood, which they hold liable.

This new class action proceeding has been brought at the specialist UK Competition Appeal Tribunal by Waterside Class Limited, a company set up to pursue this claim on behalf of millions of British consumers.

Financial compensation of up to GBP 382 million

According to the complaint, the six defendants unlawfully conspired to increase global prices for farmed Atlantic salmon using various methods. The indictment finds that the companies manipulated benchmark prices by using related entities to purchase salmon at inflated prices and by illegally exchanging commercially sensitive price and sales volume information.

It further alleges that senior executives of rival companies engaged in coordinated transactions and illegally exchanged information, and planned to manipulate prices through e-mail correspondence, meetings, and "working dinners." According to the indictment, this behavior constituted a "cartel" and a violation of competition laws intended to protect consumers.

The claim filed by Waterside seeks financial compensation of up to GBP 382 million (EUR 450.92 million / USD 484.23 million) for consumers who purchased farmed Atlantic salmon products from grocery retailers - any retail environment, whether physical stores or online sales channels - in the UK between October 2015 and May 2019.

Products in the claim include those sold by grocery retailers containing 50% or more farmed Atlantic salmon - fresh and frozen whole salmon, fillets, slices (including smoked salmon), steaks and other salmon cuts or portions, and canned salmon -, excluding processed products incorporating salmon - such as fish cakes, fish pies, sandwiches or prepared meals - and also salmon consumed in restaurants.

As mentioned, the proposed defendants in this class action brought by Waterside are Mowi and its subsidiary Mowi Holdings, SalMar, Lerøy Seafood, Scottish Sea Farms, and Grieg Seafood. Mowi, Grieg, and SalMar are among the largest Norwegian producers of farmed Atlantic salmon, and Mowi and Scottish Sea Farms are the two largest Scottish producers of this species.

Salmon farming companies conspired to raid shoppers' wallets

This consumers claim is entirely separate from another brought by seven of the largest supermarkets in the UK against a similar group of defendants at the same court in March 2024 in which they claimed GBP 675 million (EUR 796.88 million / USD 855.67 million) in damages. The fundamental difference between the two is that the new action brought by Waterside Class Limited identifies consumers, rather than retailers, as the main victims of the alleged price fixing and collusion.

Waterside argues that retailers passed on most of the higher salmon prices to their customers and that, therefore, much of the harm caused by the alleged price fixing has been suffered directly by consumers rather than retailers.

"This action claims that some of the Atlantic salmon farming industry’s biggest companies have conspired to raid the wallets of hard-working shoppers. This action aims to seek fair redress for the millions of British consumers who we say spent years overpaying for one of the UK’s favourite and highly nutritious foods," said Anne Heal, Waterside's sole director and representative and a well-known consumer advocate in the UK.

"By bringing this collective action, I want to give a voice to affected consumers across the UK, and see them properly compensated for their losses. I also want to bring attention to market practices which harm consumers, and hold the defendant companies to account for their alleged wrongdoing," she concluded.

"Competition laws are there to protect everyone. Thankfully, we have a fast-evolving collective proceedings regime to help vindicate consumers' rights," added Patrick Boylan, Head of Simmons and Simmons' UK Dispute Resolution Group and leader of this litigation. "We are looking forward to working with Waterside and Anne Heal to bring this claim against Mowi, SalMar, Lerøy, Scottish Sea Farms and Grieg in respect of their alleged unlawful conduct."

Similar cases in the U.S. and Canada settled with payments

Waterside points out that the new legal action in the UK will increase the pressure on major farmed Atlantic salmon producers who, in addition to having been accused of price fixing by the European Commission, have also settled class action lawsuits with similar accusations in the U.S. and Canada.

Although none of the companies have so far commented on this new lawsuit regarding the EU's antitrust allegations, at the time, all of the Norwegian companies strongly denied any wrongdoing and said they would exercise their right to respond to the European Commission's findings in due course, claiming the assertion that they had acted wrongly was "baseless" and "unsubstantiated."

However, concerning the class action lawsuits filed on behalf of salmon consumers and other purchasers in the United States and Canada, the fact is that some of the defendants have already paid compensations in out-of-court settlements of related allegations in both Canada and the United States.

Last year in Canada, Mowi, SalMar, Grieg Seafood, Cermaq, and Lerøy Seafood agreed to settle out of court following the filing of three class action lawsuits alleging anti-competitive conduct. As part of the settlement, the Norwegian salmon companies agreed to pay CAD 5 million (EUR 3.4 million / USD 3.6 million) to the plaintiffs, in addition to donating CAD 250.000 (EUR 170.286 / USD 182.986) to Food Banks Canada in lieu of payments to consumers.

Earlier, in 2022, the same companies had agreed to settle out of court in a class action lawsuit in the United States, paying USD 85 million (EUR 79.13 million). However, all the companies deny wrongdoing and say that the out-of-court settlements paid in the U.S. and Canada were to avoid substantial legal costs.

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