On 14 June 2018, the French Ministry of Economy announced its intention to carry out, for the first time, a public interest review of Cofigeo's acquisition of the ready meals business of Agripole.
In addition to a standard merger review by the French competition authority ("FCA"), French law allows the Ministry of Economy to conduct a so-called "phase III" review of transactions on public interest grounds, rather than competition grounds, within 25 days of an FCA decision. Such public interest grounds include the protection of industrial development, competitiveness of an industry in view of international competition or the creation and stability of employment. Prior to this case, the power had never been used. In this case, the French Ministry's phase III review is expected to be concluded by 19 July 2018.
The additional review by the Ministry of Economy was announced immediately after the FCA's decision to clear the transaction on competition grounds, subject to conditions. In the decision, the FCA considered that – after the transaction – Cofigeo would hold over 70% of the market of exotic ready meals and over 80% of the market of Italian ready meals. The FCA was concerned that the acquisition would lead to price increases for products bought daily by French consumers and regarded by certain consumers, especially those with modest incomes, as essential goods. In order to address these concerns, the FCA required Cofigeo to divest one of its ready meal brands (i.e., Zapetti) as well as a production site.
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