“They (Ocean Spray) were discriminating among buyers from the same class (of retail store),” LaFarge said, citing the Robinson-Patman Act, which prohibits sellers from charging competitng buyers different prices for goods of “like grade and quality.”
Nolan, 57, who worked for The Packer as a field reporter from 1974 to 1977, had been with Ocean Spray from June 1977 to October 2001. In 2001, he retired early from Ocean Spray and went to work for The Nolan Network, which Theresa Nolan had launched in 1987.
The Nolans say that when they brought the issue to the attention of Ocean Spray, their 17-year association with Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, another company for which The Nolan Network sold product, was terminated. The Nolans also say The Oppenheimer Group replaced The Nolan Network as sales agent for Ocean Spray.
But John Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the Oppenheimer Group, said the decision was simply business-based.
“It had gotten to the point where, in some cases, we were competing with each other,”Anderson said.
The lawsuit alleges that in September 2000, Ocean Spray sent a price announcement to the co-op’s fresh cranberry club store accounts and subsequently on its own offered Costco a “substantially” lower price than the published price of $25 f.o.b. per case that the co-op charged to Costco competitors Sam’s Club and C&S.
“The gist is that Ocean Spray, unbeknownst to the Nolans, was giving Costco a break on the price,” LaFarge said. “Jim and Theresa complained about it being unfair and unethical because (Costco’s) competition wasn’t given a break.”