Thai Firm Takes Control of Chicken of the Sea Brand
A Thai food company on Tuesday bought out its Southern California partners and acquired control of Chicken of the Sea International, one of the nation’s oldest and largest producers of canned tuna.
The sale includes the San Pedro cannery where Chicken of the Sea cans about 125 tons of tuna daily. It’s the only major tuna cannery in the continental United States.
Thai Union Frozen Products said it paid $38.5 million for 50% of San Diego-based Chicken of the Sea from two fishing fleet operators, Tri-Marine International of San Pedro and San Diego-based Caribbean Marine owner Edmund Gann.
The three companies purchased the mermaid-adorned Chicken of the Sea brand in 1997 out of bankruptcy court. The group paid $92 million in cash and a $5-million note for the seafood company.
Dating back almost 80 years, the Chicken of the Sea brand has 22% of the U.S. market for canned tuna, making it the second-largest domestic brand when food services and warehouse stores are included, according to Don George, a company spokesman. The company also sells salmon, crab, sardines and other seafood. It has about $300 million in annual sales and is profitable, though the company does not release profit figures.
The Star-Kist division of H.J. Heinz Co. is the nation’s largest tuna brand with about 40% of the market, George said. The Bumble Bee Seafoods division of ConAgra Foods Inc. is No. 3 at about 20%, but ranks No. 2 in supermarket sales.
George said the Chicken of the Sea purchase will make Thai Union the second-largest tuna company in the world, processing 1,100 tons of fish daily. Heinz processes about 1,200 tons daily.
The purchase comes at a time when international tuna prices have fallen to their lowest level in nearly three decades, selling for $450 to $475 a metric ton. When the partners purchased the tuna company in August 1997, prices were $1,000 to $1,200 a ton, George said. However, prices for the top tuna species, white albacore, have turned in recent months rising to $2,300 to $3,000 a metric ton from about $1,800 three years ago. More than a quarter of Chicken of the Sea’s business is albacore.
Thiraphong Chansiri, Thai Union’s president, told Reuters over the weekend that the split ownership of Chicken of the Sea “hampered business moves” and that the sale would allow the American partners to concentrate on their core fishing businesses.
His comments were echoed in a statement issued Tuesday by Tri-Marine International’s President Renato Curto, who said his company would “return” to its “traditional role” as a fishing operator.
The Chicken of the Sea mermaid first appeared in the 1950s and has survived multiple make-overs to become one of the better known icons on the grocery aisle. The company’s “Ask any mermaid you happen to see . . . What’s the best tuna? Chicken of the Sea” jingle has been used for nearly four decades.