When you hear the brand name “Chicken of the Sea,” what comes to mind? For some, it’s nostalgia; for others, it’s simply the name of their preferred brand of canned tuna. To a third group, it represents a momentous misunderstanding for a certain blonde celebrity in the early 2000s (we’ll get to that later). Regardless of its role in your life, Chicken of Sea has certainly been a mainstay in American grocery baskets for a long time!
Over 100 years old, the business started out as Van Camp Seafood Company back in 1914, when Frank Van Camp bought a California canning company with his son, Gilbert. The “Chicken of the Sea” brand name came about in 1930, when the company’s fishermen thought to compare tuna’s mild flavor and color to that of America’s favorite versatile poultry (of the land!).
Along with the Jolly Green Giant and the Morton Salt Umbrella Girl, Marketing Dive includes the Chicken of the Sea mermaid mascot in its list of “10 brand mascots that stood the test of time.” She was first created in 1952, with a look inspired by the actress Grace Lee Whitney, known for her role as Yeoman Janice Rand from the original “Star Trek” series. A few years later, Chicken of Sea hired pin-up icon Bettie Page to pose as the mermaid in Southern California supermarkets as part of their 40-year anniversary celebrations.
For the brand’s 100-year anniversary, it held a contest to finally give a name to its beloved mermaid mascot. The winning entry determined she would be called “Catalina,” selected, in part, for its reference to a historic island off the coast of California, not far from the company’s San Diego headquarters.
The Disneyland Restaurant
In 1955, Disneyland opened a Peter Pan-themed restaurant called “The Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship and Restaurant,” which served a wide variety of tuna dishes, including tuna burgers, tuna pies, and even tuna salad served in mini boats! While the name changed to “Captain Hook’s Galley” in 1969, and ultimately the restaurant was removed in 1982, its nostalgia lives on. This recipe for Disneyland Tuna Burgers is one of many endeavoring to recapture that flavor memory so many people recall from the pairing of Chicken of the Sea and Peter Pan.
In April of 1990, the public was made aware of the fact that 100,000 dolphins were killed each year from tuna fishing using purse-seine methods, where a large net is cast around tuna and then drawn closed, similar to how your close a drawstring purse. As a result, tuna-canning companies agreed to source tuna using only dolphin-safe methods. Chicken of the Sea specifically promises that it “will not purchase tuna from vessels that net fish associated with dolphins, and [it] require[s] certification of dolphin-safe fishing practices from all tuna suppliers.”
All this history, and what many of us most associate to Chicken of the Sea is that iconic moment that took place on August 19, 2003. On the premiere of the MTV reality show “Newlyweds,” pop stars and new spouses Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson were eating together in their living room when Jessica Simpson uttered those infamous words: “Is this chicken, what I have, or is it fish? I know it’s tuna, but it says ‘Chicken by the Sea.’”
Thankfully, Nick Lachey was able to clear up the confusion and ultimately summarize the origin of the brand name by explaining, “Chicken of the Sea is the brand. You know, because a lot of people eat tuna. It’s like and a lot of people eat chicken, so it’s like chicken of the sea.”
Well said, Nick.
Header image courtesy of Chicken of the Sea.