European retailers ‘to blame for sherry fixing’

20 August, 2010

Retailers should take some of the blame for the creation of a sherry producers’ cartel which has been blown apart by the Spanish authorities, a former UK supermarket drinks boss has claimed.

Fines totalling E6.7 million have been imposed on nine producers, as well as the Consejo Regulador and industry body Fedejerez.

Spain’s National Competition Commission said the group had conspired to restrict supplies and artificially inflate prices for buyers’ own-brand products in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany.

Former Sainsbury’s wine chief and industry consultant Allan Cheesman said: “I wouldn’t necessarily blame the producers, if it happened as alleged, but rather the retailers – British, German and Dutch – who seem to think sherry is a cheap drink.

“For many years retailers with their own-label clout have squeezed and squeezed until literally there is nothing left. Add to that a few cowboys in Jerez who will always seek that deal, then there is the recipe for what is alleged.”?There has been anger and surprise in Spain about the decision and level of fines, which Fedejerez believes could put some suppliers out of business.

Those implicated in the case – Williams & Humbert, José Estévez, Barbadillo, González Byass, Emilio Lustau, Pedro Romero, J Ferris and Caydsa – are expected to appeal.

Robert Boutflower, sales director of Tanners, said the UK sherry market did not suffer from restricted supplies or high prices. “The opposite is true,” he said.

“Sherry’s biggest problem in the UK is still that it’s deeply unfashionable, however hard we try to tell people it isn’t.”

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