Bumble Bee Foods files for bankruptcy, agrees to sale

Image from a 2018 Bumble Bee Foods commercial

Image from a 2018 Bumble Bee Foods commercial

Bumble Bee filed for bankruptcy protection in Wilmington, Delaware, listing up to $1 billion in both assets and liabilities, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Tuna maker Bumble Bee Foods said Thursday that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, with an agreement from Taiwan-based FCF Fishery, its largest creditor, to purchase its assets for roughly $925 million.

Bumble Bee CEO Jan Tharp said in a statement that "it's been a challenging time for our company", but the move should allow the brand to continue business as usual.

The bankruptcy filing follows years of legal trouble for Bumble Bee Foods. In 2017, Bumble Bee agreed to plead guilty for its role in the conspiracy and to pay a $25 million criminal fine.

In 2018, Bumble Bee's former chief executive, Christopher Lischewski, pleaded not guilty to criminal charges related to the price-fixing investigation, and his trial in California federal court began November 4. His trial is underway in California federal court.

The company is best known for its canned tuna, a kitchen staple that millennials are accused of killing, though a price-fixing scandal and a general lack of innovation also contributed to its downfall. Chicken of the Sea, which moved its headquarters from San Diego to El Segundo a year ago, cooperated with the investigation and was not charged. Today, a vast majority of the industry is located elsewhere. The company is a major player in the industry with 41% of the USA market for canned albacore and a 13% share of canned "light meat" tuna sales. Earlier this year, the company confidentially settled with Sysco and U.S. Foods.

Of that fine, $17 million remains outstanding, according to the company's bankruptcy filing. FCF's offer will thus serve as the leading bid for Bumble Bee in bankruptcy while the court supervises an auction process that is expected to close within 60-90 days, according to a release from Bumble Bee.

It is unclear whether other bidders would be interested in Bumble Bee, however. It acts as a broker and contracts directly with more than 500 independent tuna fishing vessels around the world.

San Diego-based Bumble Bee-whose brands include Brunswick, Snow's, Wild Selections, and Beach Cliff-marked its 120th birthday this year. The bulk of its employees, about 300, work at a processing facility in Santa Fe Springs.

The company expects to continue operating its business as usual and retain almost all of its workers.

"Bumble Bee just has not progressed and has not been innovative and has not done a lot of the things they should be", said Phil Lempert, founder of Supermarketguru.com, reported Fast Company.

Tharp said she anticipates that the transaction will occur over the next two to three months.

Although the canned tuna business has challenges - including younger people's lack of interest in eating the fish - Bumble Bee is still "an iconic brand", said Daniel Guyder, a bankruptcy lawyer at Allen & Overy in NY.

Bumble Bee was founded in 1899 by the Columbia River Packers Association, which officially introduced the Bumble Bee brand of canned seafood in 1910.

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