StarKist Co. is one of the top three companies in the canned tuna industry, and have pleaded guilty to the felony charge of price fixing as part of a massive collusion investigation on the industry. According to the United States Department of Justice, the company faces upwards of $100 million worth of fines once sentencing has completed. Prosecutors for the case allege that the top three companies, StartKist Co., Chicken of the Sea, and Bumble Bee conspired amongst each other to ensure prices remained artificially high.
Andrew Choe, the chief executive of StarKist has stated that they are cooperating with the Department of Justice during the investigation and are accepting all responsibility for their part in the price fixing. He also stated that they are going to continue to conduct their business with transparency and integrity.
Dongwon Industries, one of the biggest tuna catching companies in the world, owns StarKist Co. The parent company’s website promises to follow all ethical standards, along with excellent corporate citizenship.
The price-fixing scheme was recognized in 2015 when Chicken of the Sea, owned by Thai Union Group, attempted to buy Bumble Bee and failed. Executives of the Chicken of the Sea brand notified federal investigators of the scheme, under an agreement that protected the company from prosecution in exchange for full cooperation.
In 2017, Bumble Bee Foods pleaded guilty to the same charge. They paid $25 million in fines, which is substantially less than it should have been. Prosecutors claimed they worried about bankrupting the financially struggling business.
Two of Bumble Bee’s previous executives along with one from StarKist have all pleaded guilty to the charges, though have not been sentenced. Christopher Lischewski, another former Bumble Bee chief executive, pleaded not guilty to the price fixing charge.
Additionally, all three companies are facing lawsuits from big box retailers and food distributors such as Kroger, Walmart, and Target.