Costco win for Tri Marine as retail giant puts canned skipjack under Kirkland Signature brand

September 2, 2014, 4:30 pm

US retail giant Costco is putting canned skipjack tuna under its “Kirkland Signature” brand for the first time, with Chicken of the Sea-branded lightmeat being dropped as a result.

Tri Marine International, the US supplier based close to Costco’s Washington state headquarters, has won the business from Thai Union Frozen Products-owned Chicken of the Sea, sources told Undercurrent News.

Costco did not return request for comment and Tri Marine declined to comment. Thai Union also did not return request for comment.

The range will be in store next this week, sources said. Costco, which has annual turnover of around $100 billion, already has albacore tuna under Kirkland Signature, supplied by Bumble Bee Foods, but has previously been using the Chicken of the Sea brand for lightmeat.

Costco is making several changes with the Tri Marine-supplied product, in addition to the switch of supplier and move to its own brand.

The product will not contain any vegetable broth and will be caught by vessels fishing on free schools of tuna, not using fish aggregation devices (FADs), sources said. It will use skipjack specifically and not lightmeat, which can be comprised of a range of different species of tuna.

It will be sold in a seven-ounce can, which is the same as the Chicken of the Sea product.

According to sources, the rational of the switch from Costco is Tri Marine has its own fleet; its own plants; and can offer a fully integrated supply chain.

Initial production is not taking place in a Tri Marine plant, however. The initial production of the range is being done in Thailand, with Chotiwat Manufacturing Company (CMC) the processor. CMC declined to comment.

Tri Marine plans to move processing to its Samoa Tuna Processors (STP) plant in American Samoa once the canning section of the plant opens, which is scheduled for the end of the year, a source told Undercurrent.

Canned tuna in the US, with its three big brands of Bumble Bee, Starkist and Chicken of the Sea, is highly competitive and focused on price. The move from Costco could be a “game changer” for the US tuna sector, because a large retailer is putting out a private label product that is emphasizing traceability and quality, several tuna sector sources said.

Tri Marine, which has turnover of around $1.5bn and is one of the big three tuna traders and raw suppliers, along with Japan’s Itochu and FCF Fishery of Taiwan, is putting more focus on its downstream business, via its “The Tuna Store” sales and marketing arm.

The company launched its own retail brand last year in Walmart, Ocean Naturals, which also makes a play of the type of tuna being used and the fishing method.

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Tri Marine International, FCF Fishery, Itochu and Bumble Bee Foods feature in Undercurrent News’ newly released 292-page-long report, World’s 100 Largest Seafood Companies 2014, ranking the 100 largest seafood businesses worldwide by their latest turnover figures. Click here to find out more.

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