Publix becomes latest to allege tuna price-fixing scheme

Published on
February 3, 2016

Joining a slew of other major retailers, Publix Super Markets Inc. and Wakefern Food Corp. have filed a lawsuit alleging that some of the nation’s most prominent producers of canned tuna are guilty of participating in a price-fixing scheme.

The lawsuit, like those filed before it, is being brought against Bumble Bee Foods LLC, StarKist Company, Dongwon Industries Co. Ltd., Tri-Union Seafoods LLC, Chicken of the Sea International and Thai Union Group.

Wegman’s Food Markets, Kroger, Albertsons, Hy-Vee and H.E. Butt (HEB) filed similar lawsuits as of the beginning of the year.

According to the lawsuit documents, Publix claims that the tuna canners have operated a “continuing conspiracy…not to compete on the sale of canned tuna sold to plaintiffs and others in the United States.” Moreover, the retailer alleges that the accused disseminated "false or misleading explanations… to explain canned tuna price increases and to conceal the conspiracy.”

A price increase initiated by StarKist on around 2 March 2011 was justified to the plaintiff and others as a result of increases due to higher fishing, fuel and packaging costs, the lawsuit explains. Thereafter, on or around 14 March 2011, Bumble Bee also increased its canned tuna prices for the same reason, alleged Publix. Later that year in June, Chicken of the Sea also upped its prices; StarKist announced another increase on canned tuna due to market conditions on 1 July 2011, per the timeline laid out in the lawsuit.

Defendants and their co-conspirators cited their own predictions about where the tuna market was heading as the basis for a price increase. Because these future predictions were unverifiable by plaintiffs, they provided defendants with pretexts that allowed for the implementation of collusive price increases,” the court documents stated.

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