The Paris Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday, November 16, in the case of anti-competitive practices in the restaurant voucher sector. The four historical companies issuing these securities, Edenred France, Up, Natixis Intertitres and Sodexo Pass France, must pay their fines imposed in 2019. Initially 415 million euros, but the total amount will be lower. “ The Paris Court of Appeal confirms the financial sanctions imposed by the Competition Authority, except in respect of an issuer for which the amount has been reduced due to financial difficulties affects his ability to contribute», the Court explains in a press release, without mentioning the name of this channel.
As a reminder: several trade unions and the company Octoplus, which publishes this restaurant vouchers only on mobile, contacted the Competition Authority a few years ago to expose anti-competitive practices in the sector. Thus, in 2019, sanctions were imposed on the four historical companies, as well as on the Securities Settlement Center (CRT – dismantled in February 2023) which was responsible at the time for ” therapy ” And ” reimbursement of meal vouchers to their customers », Specifies the competition authority. These companies subsequently filed an appeal to challenge this decision.
“With a judgment today, the Paris Court of Appeal essentially dismisses the appeals filed by the main issuers of restaurant vouchers in France, as well as their joint instance, against a decision of December 17, 2019, whereby the Competition Authority had sanctioned for participating in cartel practices, prohibited by national and European competition rules”, according to the Court of Appeal.
Edenred contests this decision and plans to appeal to the Court of Cassation. The same story for the Sodexo channel, says AFP.
Restriction of competition
These companies are therefore accused of having set up a cartel, that is, an agreement aimed at restricting competition in a sector. In detail, the companies would have exchanged via the CRT every month between 2010 and 2015: “ confidential commercial information regarding their respective market shares », explains the Competition Authority.
But that is not everything. Between 2002 and 2018, companies in the sector also entered into several agreements aimed at limiting the entry of new players into the market. They would also have given themselves the word not to dive into dematerialized titles, that is to say with a card or on applications. This could explain France’s delay in developing dematerialized meal vouchers compared to its European neighbors.
“ These practices are aimed at shielding the market, while there is already competition limited by its highly concentrated oligopolistic character, are considered to be of a certain seriousness », Underlines the jurisdiction in its press release.
A concentrated market
It is not the first time that the sector has been criticized by the Competition Authority. In the early 2000s, Edenred (then Accor), Sodexo Pass France (Sodhexo Chèques et Cartes de services), Up (Chèque-lunch) and the CRT were sanctioned for “ have shared the market for meal vouchers and the commission rate charged to restaurateurs has been determined in a uniform manner », the administration recalled.
It must be said that the market for meal vouchers, which will represent more than 8 billion euros in 2022 alone, is concentrated. The four historical players now capture a market share of more than 99%. Leaving just under 1% for new entrants, such as Open or WiiSmile. Companies that have been present for years also benefit from network effects and economies of scale, the French administrative authority notes. An opinion not shared by Ilan Ouanounou, the French general manager of Edenred. According to him, “there are not many markets with thirteen issuers, including four major operators.”
Dissatisfied restaurateurs and traders
It is in this context that the restaurateurs are claiming damages. Because some believe that if companies in the industry break competition rules, they can take advantage to keep and increase commission rates. “ Since the market is affected, the law of supply and demand, which would have reduced commissions, cannot work. criticizes Romain Vidal, restaurateur and referent of the meal vouchers of the Hôtelleries & Restaurations de France (GHR) group. Especially because, according to him, the new issuers offer very low commission rates, for some even 0%.
And since the court confirms that there was indeed an agreement, “Collective or individual actions can finally be taken to seek compensation for identified damage », adds Romain Vidal. HAS To date, several collective actions such as that of TransAtlantis exist. According to the latter, the compensation for each trader could amount to thousands or even tens of thousands of euros.
For his part, Edenred’s general manager confirms that the Competition Authority has not concluded an agreement on prices. “ As a result, no loss of commission was incurred by restaurants. », he concludes.
According to him, it is more of a symbolic subject than an economic subject. “ On average, meal vouchers represent 2,350 euros in additional turnover per location. A commission of 4% therefore corresponds to an amount of 95 euros per month “, he argues and assures: “ Our goal is to provide restaurateurs with maximum turnover by approaching new companies. “.
The government on deck
The government has also investigated the issue. The Minister of Economy, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty also contacted the Competition Authority in October with the idea of capping the commissions of meal voucher companies. But according to the authority, this response is not the most effective.
HAS Instead, she suggests “ to establish appropriate regulation of the sector » or to put an end to “ to the exclusive right of each issuer to accept the securities it issues “, that is, to allow traders and restaurateurs to transfer all their securities to the issuing company of their choice.
She also recommends making the dematerialization of these titles mandatory. This has been achieved since Olivia Grégoire, the Minister Delegate in charge of Small and Medium Enterprises, Trade, Crafts and Tourism, announced on Monday, October 2, that the titles will have to be fully dematerialized before 2026. A measure that will make it possible to reduce the administrative burden and additional costs for restaurant owners.
Will shopping with meal vouchers be over soon?
Meal vouchers, 50 to 60% financed by employers, can be used for shopping, from Monday to Saturday. But from January 2024 it will be over. They will only be used to pay for food that needs to be consumed immediately, such as sandwiches or ready-made meals. It will therefore no longer be possible to buy vegetables, rice or even meat with these titles.
This measure introduced during the health crisis to boost the French wallet is still subject to change. The Minister of Economy, Bruno Le Maire, said: “ advantageous » Tuesday, November 14 to extension after 2023:
“ I support an extension of this provision to allow restaurant vouchers to be used for the purchase of food products after December 31, 2023. », the tenant of Bercy told the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs.
Bad news, however, for the Union of Hotel Trades and Industries (Umih). According to her, this involves less expenditure in supermarket locations. Because today, only 43% of the restaurant voucher is spent in restaurants and the rest on shopping », says Franck Chaumes, the chairman of the catering branch of the organization.