Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has become the latest American retailer to file suit against Bumble Bee Foods, Tri-Union Seafoods and StarKist, the so-called “big three” tuna providers, for allegedly conspiring to fix the prices of shelf-stable tuna in the United States, according to published reports. Other retailers that are part of a class action against the companies include Wegmans Food Markets, the Kroger Co., Albertsons Cos., Hy-Vee, Publix Super Markets and Meijer.
Concurrently, the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into the allegations as part of a criminal antitrust investigation, SeafoodSource reported, citing legal documents filed in San Francisco by the department.
Walmart’s suit contends that the company purchased about $400 million worth of packaged tuna products annually from the three companies between 2010 and 2015, roughly when the fraud is alleged to have taken place. The suit seeks damages of treble the amount that Walmart alleges it was overcharged by, a total that would be determined at trial.
“We believe there is strong evidence that suppliers of canned tuna to Walmart conspired to artificially inflate and wrongfully fix prices in order to increase their own profits at the expense of consumers,” Randy Hargrove, director, national media relations at Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart, told Progressive Grocer in an email. “Our focus for more than 50 years has been on giving our customers great deals when they shop at our stores, and increased costs like this directly impact the 260 million customers who visit our stores each week around the world. We filed suit … to best protect our rights and the interests of our customers.”
Bumble Bee, Tri-Union and StarKist are known as the “big three” because they own a combined 70 percent to 80 percent of the packaged tuna industry in the United States.