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Bumble Bee tuna files for bankruptcy, citing 'legal challenges'

The 120-year-old company cited "significant legal challenges" in its bankruptcy filing, while consumption of canned tuna continues to decline.
/ Source: TODAY

One of the country's oldest and best-known tuna brands has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but Bumble Bee cans will not be suddenly disappearing from your local grocery store.

Bumble Bee Foods said in a news release Thursday that Taiwan-based FCF Fishery has entered into an agreement to purchase Bumble Bee's assets for approximately $925 million.

Tuna maker Bumble Bee Foods has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Getty Images

Bumble Bee cited easing a debt burden "caused by recent and significant legal challenges" as the reason for the bankruptcy filing.

“It’s been a challenging time for our company but today’s actions allow us to move forward with minimal disruption to our day-to-day operations,” Bumble Bee president and CEO Jan Tharp said in the release. “We have an experienced leadership team in place and plan to transform our business in bold and innovative ways that will build a legacy worthy of our proud 120-year-old history.”

The company anticipates that Bumble Bee tuna and other products from their additional brands, including Beach Cliff, Brunswick, Snow’s and Wild Selections, will remain on the shelves in the U.S. and Canada.

"It is our clear intent that all U.S. and Canadian operations continue uninterrupted,'' Tharp said in the release. "Employees will get paid, our customer partners can count on us to continue delivering outstanding brands and services, and vendors will be paid in the ordinary course of business."

The "legal challenges" include pleading guilty in 2017 to price fixing the cost of canned tuna and tuna pouches, which came with a $25 million fine.

The San Diego-based company still has to pay $17 million of the fine to the U.S. Department of Justice, according to its bankruptcy filing. The company also has been entangled with civil lawsuits related to the price-fixing, according to CNBC.

Bumble Bee's woes come as tuna consumption continues to decline. According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), canned tuna sales have dropped 42 percent over the last three decades.

Reasons for the decline include processed foods coming under increased scrutiny for being unhealthy and many popular diets stressing fresh produce over packaged foods.

Leading tuna companies like Bumble Bee, StarKist and Chicken of the Sea have also tried to make their products easier to consume, with pouches and ready-to-eat cups instead of traditional cans that require a can opener.