Vitamin Firms To Pay $1.1B

Six giants of the vitamin industry have agreed to pay more than $1.1 billion to settle price-fixing claims outlined in an antitrust lawsuit, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The settlement, which would be the largest ever paid in such a case, would resolve allegations that the companies oversaw a nine-year conspiracy that led to artificially high prices for hundreds of food and beverage companies.

The higher vitamin prices allegedly led to higher retail prices for many food products, ranging from breakfast cereal to peanut butter.

The Post reported that the tentative settlement of the civil suit brought by corporate buyers of bulk vitamins will be presented to U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan in about two weeks. The judge will then hold a hearing to determine the settlement's fairness.

Last May, the Justice Department obtained a $750 million criminal fine from three of the vitamin manufactures as a result of allegations that the companies colluded to divide up markets and set wholesale vitamin prices. Those three companies were F. Hoffman La Roche & Co., of Switzerland; BASF AG of Germany; and Rhone-Poulenc SA of France.

The Post said that those three companies in addition to three Japanese firms -- Eisai Co., Daiichi Pharmaceutical Co., and Takeda Chemical Industries Ltd -- had reached the tentative civil settlement. Together, the six companies account for about 80 percent of bulk sales of the most popular vitamins.

Under the agreement, nearly 1,000 corporate buyers of bulk vitamins would receive more than $1 billion reflecting overcharges during the nine years. The newspaper said 50 law firms would divide another $125 million.

It's not known how much of the money, if any, might translate into savings for retail customers. Food and beverage companies are not required to pass along any of the money in form of lower retail prices.

Representativs of Daiichi, Eisai and Takeda declined comment on the report. The other companies could not be reached for comment.