After year and a half, StarKist CEO to exit

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Change continues at StarKist Co., one of the nation's iconic tuna companies.

North Shore-based StarKist announced Tuesday that In-Soo Cho, who had served as president and CEO, is leaving to pursue new opportunities. Mr. Cho, a former Pizza Hut executive, had been running the business since March 2011.

On an interim basis, the role of president will be filled by Sam Hwi Lee, a former president of Nestle Korea who serves on the company's board. Mr. Lee's resume also includes time with Nestle USA, Dole Food Co. and Armour Foods Co.

StarKist has been through different leadership and, indeed, different ownership in recent years, in part because of the challenges of an industry coping with the fact that overall tuna consumption hasn't been growing.

The business was acquired by South Korean company Dongwon Group in 2008 from San Francisco-based Del Monte Foods, which had picked it up a few years earlier from Pittsburgh's H.J. Heinz Co.

"Our sales are up in a declining market," said Frank Pogue, vice president of marketing and innovation at StarKist, who praised both Mr. Cho for improvements made during his tenure there and parent company Dongwon for sharing its expertise in the fishing industry.

In addition to working on operational efficiencies, Mr. Cho focused renewed investment in marketing the brand and raising the profile of its mascot, Charlie the Tuna, according to Mr. Pogue. StarKist wants to avoid being a commodity product dependent on selling for the lowest price. Earlier this month, the company launched a single-serve Tuna Creations pouch line of flavored recipes under 110 calories each.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pogue said the South Korean parent company has shared resources and knowledge with its Pittsburgh offices. "Dongwon has really brought a lot of expertise in procurement and operations," he said.

This is the second time since its acquisition of the tuna brand in 2008 that the top management position has been filled by an interim leader. After the purchase, former Del Monte and Heinz executive Donald J. Binotto led the business until the board decided to make a change. An interim president filled the role for several months until Mr. Cho's arrival.

StarKist employs about 100 people in its offices on the North Shore. It also has operations in Ecuador and American Samoa.

Mr. Pogue said the company, which has a long-term lease for its North Shore offices, is committed to maintaining its headquarters in the city.

businessnews

Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com.


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