Monday, June 23, 2008

The Starkist Tuna Conspiracy

This is an old essay from one of my English classes. It has its fair share of errors, but my instructor really liked it. Please understand that it is over five years old now and some of the resources might no longer be available, having been put under lock and key by the evil Del Monte corporation.

The Star-Kist Tuna Conspiracy

By Michael Adams

There is a powerfully negative trend sweeping the United States today; gas prices soar out of control, pension funds are raided mercilessly, and fast food companies charge ninety-nine cents for items that only a few years ago would have sold for less than half that price. Consumer values in this country are slipping away at an unprecedented rate, causing the American public to spend more to get equal or lesser value. The companies that provide us with the goods essential to our continuing lifestyle cry foul at our supposedly weakening economy, and yet national revenue is on par with where it was a scant few years ago. Even during the economic boom of the 90s things started to go devalue relatively quickly, and that leads to the question of why. We must examine these companies closely to see where the fault belongs. +I am going to examine the Star-Kist Seafood Company. *I will discuss the company's history, provide examples of changes in the quality of their product line, and finally determine whether they are the victims of a weak economy or if they are part of a nation-wide conspiracy.

The history of the Star-Kist Seafood Company is a complex and confusing one. Star-Kist was started in 1917 as a French sardine company. In 1953 the company expanded its product line and became known as Star-Kist Foods. It was in 1961 that Star-Kist adopted their now-famous spokesfish, Charlie the Tuna, whose self-worth was consistently and mockingly brought into question, as his constant suicidal attempts to be processed into a canned food product were to be denied by the haughty elitist Star-Kist ("Sorry, Charlie"). Star-Kist was acquired by the H.J. Heinz Company during a company-wide reorganization in 1963. The company adopted a dolphin safe policy in 1990 that states "Star-Kist will not purchase any tuna caught in association with dolphins" and "Star-Kist continues its practice of refusing to purchase tuna caught with gill or drift nets, which are known to be dangerous to many forms of marine life. Star-Kist condemns the use of these indiscriminate fishing methods that trap dolphins, whales, and other marine life along with the intended catch of fish." ("FAQ") "Charlie and Star-Kist have had many major innovations over the years but their biggest came in the year 2000 when Charlie helped Star-Kist introduce the new Flavor Fresh Pouch," (Star-Kist Corporate Profile") states the parent company, when in fact this is when the company began to deceive consumers. In late 2002 the company, along with other H.J. Heinz properties, was purchased by Del-Monte Foods Corporation.

There have been many changes in Star-Kist's product line in the last couple of years. Though the company claims to be an industry innovator, constantly introducing new technology to the market, as a tuna consumer for the last 25 years I can safely say that before they started making pre-made tuna salad in the late 1990s there wasn't much of an obvious change in the product line. In 2000 the company changed the labels of its cans from the familiar green-and-white design to a new deep blue color. While the moniker "New look, same great taste" applies to most products, it was not applied to Star-Kist's advertising campaign, and there was a reason. This new look coincided with the introduction of the new "Flavor Fresh Pouch," and the results weren't exactly obvious to mister Joe Schmoe consumer. The benefits of the new pouch were many. To quote Star-Kist, "It's the new wave in tuna that makes eating tuna easier, better tasting and more enjoyable than ever!" ("Products") Through nearly two decades of consuming nothing except tuna for lunch, I developed a sense when something was amiss with my favorite tuna franchise. I couldn't confirm it at first, as canned tuna always had a fairly random texture to it, but something about it seemed a little lacking. The truth was discovered by my own research, having been given a can of the green-labeled tuna for my trip to school by my parents. The pre-pouch tuna had significantly larger and variably colored chunks, while the blue-canned post-pouch tuna was mostly finely minced meat of a single darker color. Suspecting foul play, I purchased a significantly more expensive flavor fresh pouch to confirm that it did indeed contain larger chunks of tuna, but still of one variety. A trip to the grocery store showed that there were significantly more varieties in the Star-Kist line than in years previous. There could be no mistake now - Star-Kist wasn't changing the quality of their tuna, they were separating what was once a superior product into components of varying quality. At the top of this new line was the more expensive white albacore tuna. While once just another component of the tuna processing procedure, albacore is now more desired than 'regular' tuna, and a higher price tag is the result. In the mid-range area is the "Flavor Fresh Pouch," which is the larger chunks of the darker variety of Skipjack tuna, packaged in an easier to use foil pouch. On the bottom rung is the minced canned tuna, which seems to be whatever is leftover from straining out the larger chunks for the pouch. Despite its obvious drop in quality from a few years ago it still remains the same price as before, if not a little more expensive. There are other variations of course, such as tuna salad and tuna fillets, but for the purposes of this discussion they are insignificant.

So the question one has to ask is whether Star-Kist is the victim of a weakened economy, or the puppeteers of one of the vilest conspiracies to ever infect the canned tuna industry. There are several factors that could perceivably affect Star-Kist's revenues, forcing the company to reorganize and restructure their product line as quietly as possible. The dolphin-safe policy that the company had adopted in 1990 no doubt limited the number of tuna suppliers, and drove up the costs of those suppliers remaining (after all, it must be simpler to catch everything and kill what's left than to selectively fish for tuna). This alone would be enough to send most companies into an economic tailspin, but the over-fishing of tuna as a whole is driving up costs as well... or so the industry would have us believe. While some species are declining, and others are unstable, Skipjack tuna (the primary variety found in "chunk lite" tuna) are "still large, though declining in parts of the Atlantic." ("Tunas") Is it likely that Star-Kist, as a result of the declining population has raised the price in an effort to curb tuna consumption? If so, is the company risking a loss of market share to tuna companies of less reputable status? It's not likely. The company proudly places "America's Favorite Tuna...AC Nielsen Total Tuna Category Sales, Latest 52 Weeks" ("Home page") on their website, proving that even though they are the most expensive commercially available tuna, they are still the most popular. The company has been experiencing more growth than any other tuna company in the market. If anything, they are responsible for more over-fishing; no, it's far more likely that Star-Kist is merely breaking down its once-superior product into several components: selling the inferior minced tuna at the normal price to unwitting poor consumers, and packaging the coveted larger chunks for sale to the rich bourgeois in a plot to further separate those that have and those that have not. The best argument for this lays with Star-Kist's parent companies - Del-Monte is headed by Richard G. Wolford and H.J. Heinz Co. is headed by William R. Johnson, both silver-haired rich white males. It is a generally accepted fact that it is this very demographic that is ruining our nation, Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey notwithstanding. Because the single most powerful tuna company in the world is now under the reigns of these two shady and incredulous characters, we have given them ample resources to divide our democracy into a virtual fiefdom, one piece at a time.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that Star-Kist is not a victim of economic distress, they are perpetuating a conspiracy of the direst kind: the kind that isn't immediately noticed. The thousands of these tiny conspiracies, from the "Mexicanization" of American automobiles to the obvious drop in the quality of The Simpsons, are very quickly adding up to overwhelm and crush the dreams of average Americans. The conspirators are taking what was once available to everyone and raising costs so that it is only attainable by their luxury-car-driving ilk. Americans must come together as a people to take their nation, their jobs, and their homes back from these white-collar demons. I would have presented you with the substantiation of this particular cabal, but for my part I am poor and hungry, and edible evidence doesn't last long in such conditions.

Works Cited

"FAQ" Star-Kist Seafood Company official website. 2003.

http://www.starkist.com/

"Home page." Star-Kist Seafood Company official website. 2003.

http://www.starkist.com/

"Products." Star-Kist Seafood Company official website. 2003.

http://www.starkist.com/

"Star-Kist Corporate Profile" Del-Monte Foods official website.

http://www.delmonte.com/company/Brands/LearnMore/Starkist.asp

"Tunas." Audubon's Living Oceans website. 1999-2002.

http://seafood.audubon.org/tuna.html
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