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.

Join 1.5m+ professionals getting The Hustle daily news brief

Business and tech news in 5 minutes or less

100% free, no ads or spam, unsubscribe anytime


How'd Bezos build a billion dollar empire?

In 1994, Jeff Bezos discovered a shocking stat: Internet usage grew 2,300% per year.

Data shows where markets are headed.

And that’s why we built Trends — to show you up-and-coming market opportunities about to explode. Interested?

Join us, it's free.

Look, you came to this site because you saw something cool. But here’s the deal. This site is actually a daily email that covers the important news in business, tech, and culture.

So, if you like what you’re reading, give the email a try.

If you don’t like it, unsubscribe any time. Privacy policy.