A French fruit and vegetable wholesaler is at the heart of a major investigation after suspicions they were passing off hundreds of tonnes of Spanish vegetables as French products, the prefecture of the southern French department of Bouches-du-Rhône said on Monday.
In terms of fruit and vegetables, “the fraud consists of a company buying products abroad, often at low prices, and reselling them claiming that they are from French production,” the prefecture explained in a statement.
“In this case, the fruit and vegetable wholesaler is suspected of having bought several hundred tonnes of vegetables (courgettes, peppers, squash, asparagus, etc.) in 2020 and 2021 and of having disguised their origin. The labels of the vegetables indicating ‘Spain’ were removed from the parcels and packaging and replaced with labels indicating ‘France’,” they added.
Invoices bearing the words “origin: France” were also issued by the wholesaler, according to the prefecture: “It was therefore impossible for his customers and the final consumer to realise that these were, in fact, Spanish vegetables”.
The investigation is still underway and it has been determined that the customers concerned are mainly large-scale retailers who buy from this wholesaler for the fruit and vegetable sections of their shops.
“This wholesaler could also have acted with the cooperation of a fruit and vegetable packer responsible for repackaging certain vegetables in nets and labelling them as French origin,” the prefecture said.
“The interest in fraud lies in the differences in prices and seasonality of fruit and vegetables between producing countries. For example, last June, Spanish peppers were trading on the wholesale market at around €2/kg, while French peppers, which have only just been harvested, were being bought at nearly €3/kg,” it said.
When proven, this practice constitutes an offence of misleading commercial practice punishable by two years in prison and a fine of €300,000.