The leading providers of canned tuna are conspiring together to keep prices high, or so claims a recent lawsuit filed in a northern California federal court.
Represented in part by Beaumont attorney Richard Coffman, Affiliated Foods, an Amarillo company, filed suit against Bumble Bee Seafoods, Starkist and Chicken of the Sea on Aug. 20, seeking a court decree that the defendants’ alleged conspiracy violates the Sherman Act.
The suit claims that as early as January 2000, the defendants have conspired to raise the price of shelf-stable packaged seafood, despite a dip in demand.
“Since the 1990s, health and sustainability concerns, which range from fears of mercury poisoning to fury over dolphin bycatch, have taken their toll,” the suit states. “So, too, has a national shift away from packaged seafood.”
In a competitive environment, a decline in demand will normally lead to a decline in the price of the product.
However, because the defendants control around 80 percent of the market share, they allegedly collaborated to set artificially inflated prices, the suit alleges.
Since January 2000, the defendants have communicated frequently, which include telephone calls and face-to-face meetings at hotels and restaurants, to share sensitive business information and enter into “agreements to fix, raise, stabilize, and maintain prices of packaged seafood to customers in the United States,” the suit alleges.
“Defendants had ample opportunities for collusion,” the suit states.
“Defendants routinely attended trade shows and conferences during which they discussed Packaged Seafood pricing and other aspects of their conspiracy. Defendants also collaborated on many projects during the relevant period, including their joint ‘Tuna the Wonderfish’ advertising campaign and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.”
Although the “Tuna the Wonderfish” campaign was unsuccessful in boosting consumption, the defendants nonetheless jointly implemented a price increase in 2012 in the face of falling demand, the suit alleges.
The San Francisco office of the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice is conducting an investigation into anticompetitive practices of the packaged seafood industry.
Affiliated Foods is claiming it has suffered injury due to the defendants’ alleged violations of antitrust laws.
Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer, which has offices in New York and San Francisco, is also representing the plaintiff.
Case No. 3:15-cv-03815