On October 31, 2016, Walmart filed a lawsuit against Chicken of the Sea, Starkist, and Bumble Bee arguing between 2008 to 2015 the companies colluded with one another in a price-fixing scheme. Although the demand for canned tuna has diminished in the past decade the price has not. Del Monte was also listed as a party since the company controlled part of the Starkist operations during the time period. In May 2017, Walmart amended its petition to add over 50 executives to the original lawsuit. Since 2015, price-fixing suits against the three packaged seafood companies have been pending in various courts. Walmart states in its lawsuit it annually purchased an estimated 25% of the canned tuna industry’s products during the stated time period.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation was prompted by Chicken of the Sea’s attempt to purchase Bumble Bee for $1.5 Billion in December of 2014. Once the potential merger was announced, a DOJ investigation ensued and the merger did not move forward. On May 8, 2017, Bumble Bee pleaded guilty to price-fixing and agreed to pay an $81.5 million fine. This comes after Chicken of the Sea allegedly was the first to strike a deal with the DOJ and began “singing like a canned tuna” to diminish its potential fines and liabilities. According to the Acting Assistant Attorney General Andrew Finch of the DOJ Antitrust Division, “the division, along with our law enforcement colleagues, will continue to hold these companies and their executives accountable for conduct that targeted a staple in American households.” Clearly, the DOJ and the pending retailer lawsuits like Walmart and Wegman’s will continue to move forward with investigating this “whale of a tale.”
Jillian Hishaw, Esq. LL.M. (Agricultural Law) has over a decade of professional experience in agriculture and is the Founder and Director of F.A.R.M.S. a regional non-profit in the Southeast that provides legal and technical services to small farmers. Hishaw is also the owner of Hishaw Law LL.C.