Competition bureau investigating alleged price-fixing in wild blueberry industry
Cartons of wild blueberries are for sale at a roadside stand in Woolwich, Maine on July 27, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Robert F. Bukaty
Ben Cousins, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Friday, April 6, 2018 3:22PM EDT
Canada’s competition bureau is investigating price-fixing allegations among processors of wild blueberries in the Maritimes.
The Competition Bureau of Canada confirmed the investigation in an email to CTVNews.ca and said it would not “hesitate to take appropriate action” if the processors are found to have broken the Competition Act.
“As part of this investigation, the Bureau is currently gathering evidence to determine the facts,” Veronique Aupry, spokesperson for the bureau, said in the email. “There is no conclusion of wrongdoing at this time and no charges have been laid.”
Aupry declined to comment further, citing investigations are typically done confidentially. Aupry has not yet disclosed which companies are under investigation.
The Northeastern New Brunswick Wild Blueberry Growers Association says they’ve been told the investigation began following a complaint of an alleged conspiracy when it comes to the price of unprocessed wild blueberries in the three Maritime provinces.
The organization says growers have long suspected processors of fixing the prices for unprocessed wild blueberries, but were unsure if the drop in prices stems from an alleged conspiracy or from a weakened international market. The organization hopes this investigation will confirm once and for all if there is a conspiracy and hopefully help to fix the market.
Louis-Philippe McGraw, chairperson for the organization, said in a phone interview the price being for wild blueberries offered has dropped to about 20 cents per pound in recent years, even though growers need between 35-40 cents per pound just to break even. He says growers have been told to expect similar prices for the upcoming growing season.
“Other growers are essentially losing their farm, so the vast majority of growers are struggling at this point,” McGraw said.
“There (are) many blueberry growers that have essentially stopped harvesting blueberries (and) just let their fields (grow) without any work on them.”
This wouldn’t be the first time wild blueberry processors have found themselves under investigation.
In 2003, 80 wild blueberry growers in the United States were paid US$18.6 million combined in damages after the courts ruled three blueberry processing companies participated in a four-year conspiracy to fix the base price.