“Everyone at Bumble Bee is extremely enthusiastic about our future because over the last 18 months we have been planting the seeds of bold and innovative growth, and we are starting to see the positive results of that work really playing out on several fronts,” Jan Tharp, president and chief executive officer for Bumble Bee Foods, told FoodNavigator-USA.
She explained that Bumble Bee is focused on three pillars of change. The first includes new product development that “puts the consumer at the center.” The second deepens the company’s commitments to sustainability and protecting the oceans that inspire its products. And the third includes expanding into the plant-based seafood space through a joint venture with Gathered Foods Corporation that represents a first-of-its-kind partnership for the seafood category.
While many of these reflect values that Bumble Bee has held throughout its 120-year history, Tharp noted that the company’s renewed vigor in its approach is possible because of the strategic acquisition of Bumble Bee North America’s assets to the Kaohsiun, Tiawan-based tuna supplier Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company at the start of the year. The acquisition followed Bumble Bee’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in late November related to federal charges of price fixing over the last three years, which resulted in a guilty plea and a $25 million fine. Starkist also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay $100 million. Chicken of the Sea blew the whistle on the investigation and was not fined.
With the sale to FCF, Tharp said Bumble Bee is now “able to combine their strengths and our strengths and move at a more rapid pace with respect to sustainability and social responsibility,” which are reflected in is new product launches and partnership with Good Catch.
A good match with Good Catch
Just as enthusiastic as Tharp is about Bumble Bee joining FCF, she is equally optimistic about the company’s partnership with Gathered Foods Corporation’s Good Catch, which she said makes “superior” plant-based alternatives to traditional packaged seafood products.
“We are the first major seafood company to get into the plant-based seafood space through this joint venture with Good Catch, and it really leverages both of our strengths and provides consumers with more choices, while decreasing demands on the ocean. So, this partnership really highlights our consumer facing innovation as well as our commitment to the ocean and sustainability,” Tharp said, adding, “It is a nice demonstration of how we are really putting action behind our words and we are really excited about the partnership.”
As part of the joint venture, Gathered Foods Corporation will pay Bumble Bee to boost distribution and warehousing of Good Catch’s products to accelerate their availability across the country at an affordable price point. In exchange, Bumble Bee is able to play in a space where it did not have a current asset base or skill set, said Tharp, adding that seafood is the next wave of the plant-based revolution that so far has centered main on dairy and meat.
“Bumble Bee is looking at current trends and trying to react to those trends and we see the plant-based food category is up about 30% in the last two years while traditional US retail food is only growing at 2% in that same time. So plant-based really is a key driver in retail,” Tharp said. “We see an opportunity for seafood to really share in that growth.”
Within that context, she added the partnership with Good Catch “really ends up being a win-win for both of us because we are doing what we both do best.”
Under the arrangement, Good Catch will remain independent and both companies will focus on boosting sales of and access to its shelf stable, frozen and food service products, Tharp said. But, she added, the partnership could “morph into different things.”
New products illustrate shifting consumer demands
While Bumble Bee supports Good Catch, it will also expand the reach of its own brand by launching several new products designed to bring new consumers into the market and bring back those who have strayed, Tharp said.
The first product, which already launched in Canada and will come to the US soon, is a trio of 6 ounce ready-to-eat Bistro Bowls that are “meal solutions,” and offer convenience and high protein. The shelf stable bowls will combine tuna, vegetables, beans, peas and whole grains and are ready in 30 seconds in the microwave. The initial offering will include Spanish Medley, Mexican Rice and Mediterranean Pasta.
While the launch draws on elements of other Bumble Bee products, Tharp said concerns about cannibalization of other offerings have not panned out. She noted that in Canada, 30% of the users are new to the brand and 21% are new to canned seafood.
Another product launching in the US in Q3 is Bumble Bee Seafoods’ Protein On The Run, which are mini “meal kits,” that includes a 3.5 ounce can with an easy peel lid filled with tuna packed in seasoned olive oil, premium crackers and a sea salt caramel for dessert.
“It really is a meal kit with 15 grams of protein. It is convenient. It is portable and it is going to retail for a little over $2 – so it hits on affordability, high protein, and convenience,” Tharp said.
A new look
As part of Bumble Bee’s fresh start, it also has a new look that will shelves soon starting first with its pouched products before rolling out to the rest of the portfolio.
“Our team has really gone out and talked to consumers and incorporated some of their feedback into what our packaging looks like” to make it and the products insider more relevant, Tharp said.
Among the changes will be cleaner, less cluttered packages with limited call-outs that speak directly to consumers top concerns, such as the type of fish, the amount of protein, whether the product is wild caught and its flavor.
Reflecting on all the changes, Tharp reiterated her excitement for Bumble Bee’s next chapter – noting each component is an essential part of Bumble Bee’s “coming out story ... as a health and wellness company,”