How fishy business dealings landed Big Tuna in hot water

Three companies once dominated the canned-tuna market. But things came crashing down.


August 20, 2020

Who doesn’t love a wacky business story? Slate featured a Shakespearean tale of tuna titans, and we just had to share it. 

Once upon a tuna…

In the late 20th century, 3 players dominated the American canned tuna biz: StarKist, Bumble Bee, and Chicken of the Sea.

Things were going swimmingly — by 1989, the average American was eating ~4 pounds of the stuff per year.

But then tragedy struck: We developed taste buds. Consumption has fallen ~30% over the past 4 decades, forcing Big Tuna to swim offshore in search of cheaper wages. 

That’s when things floundered

In 2015, StarKist tried to buy Bumble Bee. A federal antitrust investigation uncovered much more than an attempted monopoly. 

Throughout the 2010s, the companies fixed prices to avoid undercutting each other (and giving consumers a better deal).

StarKist and Chicken of the Sea fessed up, but Bumble Bee CEO Chris Lischewski refused, forcing a grand jury trial with Oscar-worthy moments:

  • Chicken of the Sea’s COO faked a car accident to avoid a potentially damning meeting on price fixing.
  • A Bumble Bee sales rep burst into tears while taking the stand.
  • Jury deliberation took a cool 30 minutes. Lischewski was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

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