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Can canned tuna giant Bumble Bee recover from bankruptcy and scandal?

By Brittany Meiling, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Business News

But when you look at what we actually have, we're selling an affordable, nutrient-dense, high-protein food. That matches up with what consumers are saying they needed and wanted. But we had a relevance issue. People weren't thinking about canned seafood. And so the challenge was, how do you reinvent yourself and be relevant to today's consumer?

Q: How did you approach that problem?

A: We talked to over 10,000 people to understand what consumers thought about our category and what they really wanted. At the same time, we needed to attract new talent into our business. We were able to match up tenure and passion for an incredible industry with a new vision. Several people joined us from huge companies like Campbell Soup Company and Disney, so that we could look at our company through a different lens. We started to ask, 'How do we improve engagement?'

Q: I'm assuming these viral ads on YouTube were part of that effort. They're funny and unexpected. Especially the one featuring an athlete, who's doing an intense workout. You expect the ad to be for Nike or Gatorade, and then at the end it's a tuna ad.

A: Yes, we just released our Yes! Bumble Bee! campaign, which puts tuna into a completely different limelight than how it has been thought of before. It's about showing up in ways that are unpredictable and unexpected, but we have a right to be there. When you think about that woman athlete who's climbing the rope and thinking about her competition, what a better product than pouched tuna? It's a clean, lean protein. That is so much better than power bars and protein bars. Most people don't understand that the only thing in that pouch or can is tuna, water and salt. It is the cleanest, most natural protein you can get. That's really what we're trying to do with the ads. Let people reimagine tuna differently. We have about 12 or 13 other ads that are equally as good pitching tuna in places that you wouldn't normally expect it to show up.

Q: How else are you trying to appeal to millennial consumers and younger?

 

A: We've got a pipeline of products that hit on protein convenience for different segments of the market. We now have a protein-on-the-run option, which is a brand new product. It's a tuna product in oil with an easy-peel lid, some crackers and chocolate almonds. We have a Bistro Bowl we launched up north of the border.

We're also focusing more on sustainability. In the last two years we've probably hired 40 new individuals. A lot of them are 45 years and younger, and they care a lot about sustainability and they care about purpose. They want to work for a company that's doing something bigger than themselves. We get involved in volunteer efforts to clean up the ocean and removing plastics from the ocean. We're also dealing with the social impacts of fishing, giving back into the communities in which we operate.

Q: How have these efforts affected the company's sales?

A: Well, one thing may skew our data. We were sold (to the Taiwanese company) in February. Then we went into COVID-19 on March 17. Frankly, I will say the noise that's created in any company within shelf-stable foods may be difficult to unwind. We want to be transparent and honest, but we've had this global event happen within 60 days of coming out of bankruptcy. Shelf-stable is an area people are shopping. We saw a massive increase during COVID, 6 million new users came into Bumble Bee alone, not just the category. We were flooded with new users, and existing users were buying more.

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