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StarKist headquarters headed back to Pittsburgh

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By Rick Stouffer
Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008

South Korean conglomerate Dongwon Industries Co. Ltd. said Tuesday it completed a $359 million deal with Del Monte Food Co. to acquire its StarKist seafood business, with the tuna brand headquarters moving back to Pittsburgh.

About 35 StarKist employees occupy about 18,000 square feet of space in the Del Monte building on the North Shore.

"We are projecting to have 100 employees during the next two years," said Melissa Murphy-Brown, a former Del Monte spokeswomen in Pittsburgh who is among the new StarKist personnel.

Murphy-Brown added the StarKist headquarters was relocated to San Francisco a few years ago, with a skeleton crew of operations and research and development personnel remaining here.

Dongwon also said that Donald J. Binotto, who was involved in tuna operations at Del Monte and at StarKist's previous owner, the H.J. Heinz Co., is StarKist's new president and CEO.

"We are very pleased to have successfully closed the transaction and to welcome the StarKist family to our portfolio of products," said Ingu Park, vice chairman of Dongwon Enterprise Co. Ltd, in a statement. "StarKist, a 65-year-old brand and top household name, represents a great opportunity for us to initiate operations in the United States."

Park, who is StarKist's chairman, also said that the new owners plan to expand StarKist's product line over and above tuna, and to capitalize on StarKist's 37 percent tuna market share in the U.S.

The divestiture by Del Monte includes the sale of manufacturing facilities in American Samoa and Manta, Ecuador, and certain manufacturing assets in Terminal Island, Calif., and Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Del Monte and Dongwon also signed a two-year service agreement under which San Francisco-based Del Monte will provide such services as warehousing, distribution, transportation, sales, information technology and administration to the sold business.

Del Monte said in May it may sell StarKist. The company, which originally came to Pittsburgh in 2002 when it acquired four divisions from Heinz for $2.5 billion, at that time also announced it was relocating about 100 marketing and related positions from its 500-person operation on the North Shore to its corporate headquarters in San Francisco.

The Heinz transaction included StarKist, pet foods, baby foods and unbranded soups. The deal included Heinz's North Side manufacturing facilities. In 2006, Del Monte sold the North Side plant, baby food and unbranded soup units to TreeHouse Foods Inc. of Westchester, Ill.

Positions moved west included the last vestiges of Del Monte's pet food and StarKist tuna operations, leaving in the Del Monte Center primarily back-office jobs the company said are important to its operations. Pittsburgh employment within a year would fall to 400, the company said.

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