* Company representatives met regularly for decades - regulator
* Cartel Office has handed out record level of fines this year
FRANKFURT, July 15 (Reuters) - More than 20 German sausage makers have been fined a total of about 338 million euros ($461 million) for years of price-fixing, the competition regulator said on Tuesday.
The hundreds of different types of sausage found on German supermarket shelves - such as salami, Bavarian weisswurst or liverwurst - are a household staple, with average annual consumption at about 30 kg per person.
Germany’s Federal Cartel Office said representatives of major firms had met regularly for decades to discuss market developments and prices.
“Prices were fixed over many years,” Cartel Office President Andreas Mundt said.
Particularly since 2003, there have been agreements between companies like Wiesenhof, Ruegenwalder and Meica, most of which are privately held, in an attempt to make supermarkets pay sausage makers higher prices, the watchdog said.
“The total fine seems high at first glance but is put in perspective if you consider the large number of companies involved, the duration of the cartel and billions of euros of revenues the sector generates,” Mundt said.
The 21 companies and 33 individuals fined have two weeks to appeal the decision. Wiesenhof, Ruegenwalder and Meica were not immediately available for comment.
According to the German meat industry association, sausage production eased by 1.1 percent to 1.46 million tonnes last year, but the sector’s sales grew to 6.9 billion euros as prices rose by 3.4 percent. In 2012, sausage prices rose 5.2 percent.
The fines on the sausage makers, ranging from a few hundred thousand euros to multi-million euro sums, bring the total penalties handed out by the Cartel Office in 2014 to almost 1 billion euros - already an annual record.
The penalties handed out this year included 280 million euros in fines levied against sugar producers and more than 300 million euros for beer makers.
Previously, the highest total for fines in one year was the 717 million euros the Cartel Office handed out in 2003.
$1 = 0.7331 Euros Writing by Maria Sheahan and Kirsti Knolle; Additional reporting by Tom Kaeckenhoff and Anneli Palmen in Duesseldorf; Editing by Pravin Char