Second company sues tuna firms, alleges price fixing

By

Sean Murphy, SeafoodSource online editor

Published on
August 21, 2015

A second company has sued the three biggest producers and distributors of canned tuna in the United States, alleging the companies conspired to fix prices.

Groservice Inc., otherwise known as PITCO Foods, a food wholesaler located in San Jose, Calif., USA, has filed a class action lawsuit “on behalf of itself and all others similarly situated” in U.S. District Court, against Bumble Bee Foods, Tri-Union Seafoods and StarKist Co. Tri-Union is a subsidiary of Thai Union Frozen Products, which owns the brand Chicken of the Sea.

Together, the companies control much of the canned and pouched tuna industry in the United States, a situation the suit described as “this oligopolistic structure within the company.” PITCO is alleging that from 24 July on, all three have worked to fix prices at the expense of wholesalers such as itself.

“(PITCO) directly purchased (tuna products) from one or more of the defendants and has suffered pecuniary injury as a result of the antitrust violation alleged herein,” the company’s lawyer, Mark Labaton, of Los Angeles, wrote in the suit.

The company describes trends in seafood consumption, showing that consumption of canned and pouched tuna has declined.

“Given this decline in consumption of the signature (tuna products), one would expect rational businesses to reduce the prices for (the products), but that did not happen,” Labaton wrote in the suit.

The suit alleges there were multiple opportunities for the companies in question to collaborate and work together toward a situation that was good for them financially, but bad for everyone else.

“There are economic indications that support the conclusion that there was collusive pricing within the domestic (packaged tuna) industry.”

The lawsuit did not specify a figure, but said PITCO is seeking “treble damages.”

The suit follows a similar lawsuit a New York-based wholesaler filed earlier this month. That lawsuit also accused all three tuna providers of colluding to fix prices, and that the wholesaler also suffered as a result.

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