Chicken of the Sea to pay USD 13 million to settle direct purchaser price-fixing lawsuit

Chicken of the Sea Tuna on a shelf.

El Segundo, California, U.S.A.-based company and its Bangkok, Thailand-based parent firm, Thai Union, have agreed to settle price-fixing claims made in a class-action lawsuit filed a number of grocers.

The allegations stem from a criminal case in which Chicken of the Sea served as a whistleblower, which ultimately resulted in criminal convictions for rivals Bumble Bee Foods and Starkist. The civil class-action lawsuit that followed alleged the so-called “big three” tuna companies overcharged for tuna they sold between 2011 and 2015.

The settlement, initially announced in April 2021, was finalized on 7 March, 2023 by U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw. The agreement will see members of the so-called Direct Purchaser Plaintiffs (DPP) class, which includes PITCO Foods, Central Grocers, Trepco Imports and Distribution, and Benjamin Foods LLC, any other direct purchasers of packaged tuna products in the U.S. from Chicken of the Sea between 1 June, 2011, and 31 July, 2015, that did not opt out of the agreement. The terms of the settlement call for payments from Chicken of the Sea to the plaintiffs amounting to 3.2 percent of the combined sales of packaged tuna sold by the company during that timeframe, which the judge agreed would be just above USD 13 million (EUR 12.2 million). The agreement includes a USD 5.95 million (EUR 5.62 million) payment to the law firms representing the plaintiffs.

In its settlement proposal, Chicken of the Sea said had “valid defenses to the claims alleged."

“[It] has nevertheless agreed to enter into this settlement agreement to avoid the expense, inconvenience, and uncertainty of further protracted litigation,” the filing said.

Parties that opted out of the settlement include supermarket chains Kroger, Fred Meyer, Copps, Harris Teeter, Metro, King Soopers, Pick ‘n Save, Albertsons, Acme, Jewel Foods, Shaw’s, Safeway, Randall’s, Hy-Vee, H-E-B, Central Market, Ahold Delhaize, Giant Food, Hannaford, Stop and Shop, Associated Wholesale Grocers, Waldbaum’s, Pathmark, The Food Emporium, Walgreens, Duane Reade, Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Meijer, Publix, Wakefern, Dollar General, Supervalu, Target, Winn-Dixie, Performance Food Group, Bi-Lo, Big Lots, Kmart, and numerous other chains.

In 2021, Chicken of the Sea came to settlements involving members of the end-payer plaintiffs (EPPs) class, representing individual Americans who purchased its canned tuna, and the commercial food-preparers (CFPs) class.

The EPP class settlement called for Chicken of the Sea to pay up to USD 20 million (EUR 16.6 million), with USD 5 million (EUR 4.2 million) of that total dedicated to covering the costs of publicizing the agreement and USD 15 million (EUR 12.4 million) used to pay claims and litigation costs, which the plaintiffs’ attorneys estimated to total in excess of USD 4 million (EUR 3.3 million).

The CFP class settlement resulted in Chicken of the Sea paying USD 6.5 million (EUR 5.3 million) purchasers of packaged tuna including Sysco, US Foods, Costco, Walmart, and Sam’s Club. The amount represents one-third of the USD 20.5 million (EUR 17 million) in total damages to the class from the price-fixing, as estimated by an expert witness for the class. Out of the total settlement, USD 3 million (EUR 2.5 million) was set aside for legal expenses.

Photo courtesy of David Tonelson/Shutterstock


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