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A Corporate Tuna Team Scores Big

On a recent visit to Costco I noticed they were selling tuna in 7-ounce cans. It may not sound like much to you, but this is big news to me and other lovers of canned pelagic fish.

Family elders tell me that, once upon a time, all tuna came in 7-ounce cans. By the time I finished college, amid the 1970s spate of inflation, tuna was sold in 6.5-ounce cans. It was sold that way for so long that I was pretty well convinced tuna was actually caught in 6.5-ounce cans.

You can probably guess what happened. Over the years, companies wanted to raise prices still further but they didn't want to scare off customers, so they kept shrinking the cans. For a long time, 6.25-ounce cans were in use. Then they were cut to 6-ounce cans. I grumbled but kept buying my tuna. At least, during this period, they started using dolphin-safe methods of catching the fish.

Then, last year, the unthinkable happened: They cut the cans to 5 ounces. Commodity prices from oil to aluminum were skyrocketing, and tuna, sadly, was no exception. But, in my opinion, 5 ounces is too little to make a decent sandwich. Another tuna-loving blogger, Joel Hirschhorn, bemoaning the new can size, pointed out that “There is more bad news. The amount of liquid in the cans is far from trivial.” He reported that, according to unnamed tuna-weighing sources on the Internet, the 5-ounce cans actually contained only three ounces of tuna.

Fortunately, Mr. Hirchhorn, the tuna weighers and I were not the only ones to say, “enough is enough.” Tess Wilkins, a member of Costco’s corporate tuna team, told Costco’s consumer reporter Pat Volchok, “When the major national tuna brands notified us they were downsizing to 5 ounces, we knew it was time to change direction.”

Wilkins worked with the other members of the Costco tuna team to bring the original 7-ounce can of tuna back to Costco’s shelves. The warehouse store now stocks big 7-ounce cans of tuna from Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee and its house brand, Kirkland Signature. Volchok enlisted her husband in a demonstration of the greater sandwich-making powers of the new cans, reporting that, after succeeding in making only one sandwich with the standard 5-ounce can, he moved on to the 7-ounce can and produced three hearty sandwiches.

Not everyone is willing to take Costco’s claims at face value, however. One blogger, suspicious of Volchok’s husband’s sandwich-making experiment, asked “How is it possible that the 7-ounce can of tuna . . . contains triple the amount of tuna of a 5-ounce can when it only contains two extra ounces of contents?”

Costco’s answer is that their tuna contains less filler, but the blogger, identified as Edgar of MousePrint.org, “measured the amount of tuna in a 5-ounce can of Chicken of the Sea solid white tuna, first squeezing out the water, and found that it contained one-half cup, which is 8 tablespoons (not the four tablespoons that Costco claimed).” Edgar concluded that since “Costco’s 7-ounce cans cost $1.50 each (in packs of eight), while sale prices for brand name tuna in 5-ounce cans are typically about a dollar” the actual price per tuna morsel is roughly the same.

But, setting aside quibbles about tablespoons and cents, I’m just happy to once again be able to make a decent sandwich without having to open two cans. I bought two eight-packs of Costco’s 7-ounce cans, and I’m looking forward to lunch.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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2 Responses to "A Corporate Tuna Team Scores Big"

  • Eric Meermann
    August 25, 2009 - 5:00 pm

    Thank you for bringing this topic to light. I have been a fan of the ready-to-eat tuna packet, which does not require squeezing out the water, rather than the can. I was recently disappointed to find I too could not get enough tuna out of the packet to fill my kaiser roll, and I could’ve sworn I could in the past. Now I know why.

  • Melissa Licini-DiNapoli
    August 27, 2009 - 1:38 pm

    As a child I remember easily being able to make three white bread sandwiches from one can of tuna, now I am lucky to get one sandwich out of one can. I am glad to know the reason is not that I now eat three times more, rather the cans are shrinking.