San Diego Business Journal

Bumble Bee Sets Sights on Billion-Dollar Mark

BY MIKE ALLEN

Bumble Bee Seafoods, the San Diego-based tuna canner, was acquired by investor firm Centre Partners Management LLC and the company's management team for an undisclosed price from former owner Omaha-based ConAgra Foods.

"We're looking at this as an opportunity to build a hell of a business here, and a profitable one," said Christopher Lischewski, president and CEO of Bumble Bee.

Lischewski said the company purchase was driven by ConAgra's realization that Bumble Bee didn't quite fit into its overall product mix.

"Seafood was never a core category for them," he said.

For the past two years, Bumble Bee has had revenues of more than $500 million and is ranked as the second-largest tuna canner in North America behind Star Kist, which had revenues last year of more than $600 million, according to a trade association report.

Lischewski is aiming at boosting Bumble Bee annual sales to more than $1 billion in five years.

"I don't know exactly how we'll get there but part of it will be organically, part of it will be through acquisition, and part of it will be internationally," he said.

While Lischewski didn't disclose management's stake in the new entity, he said it was "significant." The majority owners are Centre Partners, with offices in New York and Los Angeles. The firm has invested more than $3 billion into some 80 private companies since its founding in 1986.

When Bumble Bee was acquired by ConAgra in 2000 from International Home Foods, it was allowed to run as an independent operation. ConAgra is the nation's second-largest food company with more than $2 billion in annual sales.

Bumble Bee has about 75 employees at its Kearny Mesa headquarters, and about 3,000 employees overall, most at offshore packing plants in Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Trinidad & Tobago, and Fiji. It also operates a plant in nearby Santa Fe Springs that employs 250 people.

The acquisition should spur some increase in local hiring, and the firm has openings in customer service, finance, and information technology, Lischewski said.

San Diego, which used to be the capital of the tuna processing industry, is also home to Chicken of the Sea International, the third-largest tuna processing firm in sales.

Chicken of the Sea is a subsidiary of Thai Union, a Thailand-based corporation. Most of the world's tuna fishing fleets are based in Samoa and operate in the Western Pacific.