TORONTO (AP) — Regulators have launched an investigation into allegations that the Canadian divisions of Nestle, Cadbury, Hershey, Mars and others have teamed up in a price-fixing scheme in the multibillion-dollar Canadian business of chocolate bars, according to a media report.
Canada's Competition Bureau served search warrants on several major bar makers this week, requiring them to turn over reams of documents on their pricing arrangements, The Globe and Mail of Toronto reported in Wednesday editions.
''We can confirm that we are investigating alleged anticompetitive practices in the chocolate confectionery industry,'' said John Pecman, the bureau's assistant deputy commissioner in the criminal matters branch. ''The volume of commerce affected here is definitely potentially in the billions of dollars per year.''
Pecman said an Ontario court recently ''granted search warrants based on the evidence that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a number of the suppliers in the chocolate industry have engaged in activities contrary to the conspiracy provisions, that's a cartel, of the Competition Act.''
Pecman would not identify the companies.
The investigation is focused on chocolate products but could expand to other types of candy depending on what is uncovered, he said.
''There are no conclusions of wrongdoing at this time,'' Pecman said. ''We're just at the investigative stage.''
The companies said they were cooperating with investigators.
''We are aware of it, but all we can say is that we can't comment on any ongoing investigation, but we are cooperating with any inquiries,'' Cadbury spokesman Simon Taylor told The Associated Press on Wednesday in London.
Canadian investigators contacted Hershey on Monday, said Kirk Saville, a company spokesman in Hershey, Pa.
''We are cooperating fully with Canadian authorities,'' Saville said. ''At this point we do not have any details and are unable to comment on this matter. However, it is a strict policy of the Hershey Co. to operate ethically and comply with all applicable laws.''
Canadians buy about $2.3 billion (euro1.55 billion) worth of chocolate and candy every year, according to the Confectionery Manufacturers Association of Canada.