John West Foods

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John West Foods Ltd
Founded1857; 162 years ago (1857), as Pelling Stanley and Company
OwnerThai Union Group

John West Foods is a United Kingdom-based seafood marketing company established in 1857, and currently owned by Thai Union Group of Thailand. They are known as a producer of canned salmon and tuna, and also supply mackerel, sardine, herring, brisling, anchovies and shellfish.


The original company was founded by T. L. Pelling and C. H. Stanley, who created Pelling Stanley and Company in 1857.[1] The company soon specialized in importing canned food, which at the time was a novel product. By 1879, they were importing canned salmon from the John West company in Oregon, USA. Pelling Stanley purchased the rights to use the John West name in 1888. The first shipments of John West Salmon appeared in 1892.[2][3]

By 1924, the three companies, operating separately, were all associated with Unilever:

  • Angus Watson and Co.
  • R B Green and Co.
  • Pelling Stanley and Company

By 1964, Unilever had merged the three into one company, John West Foods. Branches were expanded to Australia and Africa in 1974.

In 1997, Heinz acquired the brand and the majority of the John West Food company operations, excluding those in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa which continued to be part of Unilever.[4] In June 2003, Simplot Australia bought the John West canned fish business in Australia from Unilever Australasia. [5]In March 2006, Heinz sold its European Seafoods business to French-based MW Brands, itself owned by Lehman Brothers banking group, for EUR 425 million.[6][7]

In 2010, Thailand-based seafood processing company Thai Union Group bought MWBrands, becoming the world's largest canned-tuna producer.

Sustainability issues[edit]

John West canned fish

John West states that their salmon, mackerel and sardine products are certified to the Marine Stewardship Council's (MSC) standard for a well-managed and sustainable fishery, and that every can in these ranges carries the Marine Stewardship Council[8] logo.

John West also states that they do not sell endangered or critically endangered species from the International Union Conservation of Nature Red List,[citation needed] have never sold blue fin tuna, which is the subject of numerous campaigns from NGOs due to its endangered status from overfishing,[9][10][11] that all seafood products are caught in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),[citation needed] and are not bought from IUU (Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated) vessels, neither does it buy any fish that has been transshipped at sea, caught by long-line fishing or drift-nets, caught by boats from any flag state which is not a member of the relevant RFMO (Regional Fishing Management Organisation), caught by fishing vessels which do not ban shark finning, or caught by vessels which do not have an EU sanitary agreement.[citation needed]

However several of these claims have been disputed by other bodies.

In August 2008, John West was assessed by conservation group Greenpeace as selling the least sustainable tinned tuna in the UK in its Tuna League. John West has now moved up the league to 7th place.[12] The company committed to source all of its tuna through a combination of pole and line and purse seine FAD-free (fish aggregation devices) sustainable catch methods by the end of 2016. The first step towards this was the launch of pole and line tuna in September 2011.[13]

John West has also been criticised for indiscriminate use of destructive fishing methods leading to the decimation of turtle and shark populations. Greenpeace has also noted that John West failed to show sufficient care in selecting healthier fish stocks.[14] John West partners with the Earth Island Institute, who ensure that all that the fish in its canneries is dolphin safe and caught by the approved methods and has processes in place to ensure it is making responsible choices about fish stocks.[citation needed]

Traceability and sustainability controversy[edit]

John West is the only UK and Ireland canned seafood manufacturer to wholly own a fleet of vessels which ensures it has visibility of its entire fishing supply chain. In October 2011, following the above controversies, the company advertised that its supply chain would be made fully transparent for its consumers by allowing "100% tracing" by the public of each can of fish to the original boat and location of catch, using a ‘Can Tracker’ on the company's website.[15] The application enables John West consumers to track the exact source of the fish in their can including the ocean and even the boat that made the catch.[16]

However, in October 2015, John West was accused by conservation group Greenpeace of not standing by their word, and of having made a "deeply misleading" and "plainly false" promise to this effect. Greenpeace asked for volunteers to check the traceability codes on John West cans. It was found that although the website showed tuna only being caught in the Seychelles, Ghana and Portugal, in fact a large number of cans were sourced from canneries owned by John West's parent company Thai Union in the Samut Sakhon region of Thailand. This was not disclosed on the website, and tracing was not provided for such cans; the area's fishing industry is also notorious for human rights abuse and forced and bonded labor on fishing ships, and for the use of indiscriminate and harmful fishing methods.[citation needed]

An estimated 98% of John West's tuna was caught using methods harmful to the environment or to other species such as dolphins, according to a second study, with only 2% being sustainable, placing John West last for sustainability of fishing at that time.[17][18] John West described the omission as "simply a website limitation",[19] and stated that "Quite simply, there is no longer enough pole and line tuna available to meet global demand ... we have found it extremely difficult to increase the proportion of John West pole and line tuna that we can provide".[20]

The controversy became widely reported in the news, leading to John West changing its website to state that customers wishing to trace a can from Thailand should email the company instead, for further details.[19]

Bear fight marketing campaign[edit]

To increase their UK market share, in November 2000 John West canned salmon started a marketing campaign revolving around a viral video in which what appears to be a bear fights a fisherman for a fresh salmon. The video soon became a huge Internet meme, and by 2006 it was reported to be viewed over 300 million times, making it the sixth most viewed video online.[21]

The video was filmed on Invercauld Estate, near Balmoral, on the River Dee in the Scottish Highlands. Directed by Danny Kleinman, created by Paul Silburn and voiced by Tony Clarkin, the video campaign won a number of awards, including:[22]

  1. British Television Advertising Awards - "Best Commercial of the Year" (2001)
  2. Advertising Creative Circle Awards - "Winner" (2001)
  3. Intl. Food & Beverage - (Creative Excellence Awards) "FAB Award" (2001)

Campaign Live ranked it at number 1 in their list of the "Top 10 Funniest TV Ads of All Time" in 2008,[23] and was ranked at number 8 in ITV 1's list of the top 20 adverts of the decade the following year.[24]


  1. ^ "Pelling, Stanley and Co". Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  2. ^ Bernard O'Brien (2007). "The History of the Company". Bernard O'Brien. Retrieved 23 July 2007.
  3. ^ "John West - About John West - History". John West. 2008. Retrieved 1 December 2009.
  4. ^ prnewswire (30 June 1997). "HEINZ EXPANDS CANNED SEAFOOD BUSINESS WITH ACQUISITION OF JOHN WEST FOODS". PR Newswire. Retrieved 23 July 2007. Pittsburgh, June 30 - H.J. Heinz Company (NYSE: HNZ) today announced that its affiliate, H.J. Heinz Company, Limited of London, has acquired John West Foods Limited, the leading brand of canned tuna and fish in the U.K., from Unilever External link in |publisher= (help)
  5. ^ Retrieved 2017-09-04
  6. ^ (20 March 2006). "Heinz rejects John West". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 23 July 2007. ...Food manufacturer HJ Heinz will have one variety less to offer following today’s announcement that it has completed the sale of its European seafood business
  7. ^ "FIS - Suppliers - Company Details".
  8. ^ John West. "About John West - Sustainability". John West. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
  9. ^ Sea Shepherd. "Sea Shepherd announces Mediterranean campaign for the Bluefin tuna". Sea Shepherd. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  10. ^ Greenpeace. "Sea Shepherd announces Mediterranean campaign for the Bluefin Tuna". Greenpeace. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  11. ^ Ocean Sentry. "Bluefin Tuna". Ocean Sentry. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  12. ^ Greenpeace. "Tuna League Table 2011". Greenpeace. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  13. ^ FishNewsEU. "John West launches pole and line range of Tuna products". FishNewsEU. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  14. ^ Greenpeace. "Tinned Tuna's Hidden Catch". Greenpeace. Retrieved 8 November 2011.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ "John West provides full traceability of fish to public". GreenWiseBusiness. Archived from the original on 4 September 2012. Retrieved 10 October 2011.
  16. ^ "John West TV ads tout traceable tuna". SeaFoodSource. Retrieved 11 October 2011.
  17. ^ Tuna doesn’t do what it says on the tin, The Times (London), 14 October 2015
  18. ^ How thousands of dolphins die for your cheap tuna sarnie: 98% of canned fish sold by John West are caught by methods which indiscriminately kill other marine life, Daily Mail (London), 15 October 2015
  19. ^ a b John West changes website after Greenpeace accusations over traceability of Thai tuna, Liverpool Echo, 14 October 2015
  20. ^ John West accused of breaking its pledge on line-caught, sustainable tuna, The Independent (London), 15 October 2015
  21. ^ "Star Wars Kid is top viral video". BBC News. 27 November 2006. Retrieved 23 July 2007.
  22. ^ Lucas, Dean (2000). "Famous Picture Magazine - John West Salmon Bear Fight". Famous Picture Magazine. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  23. ^ "The Top 10 funniest TV ads of all time".
  24. ^ "tellyAds - ITV Ad of the Decade".

External links[edit]