Work Politics Lead Ben & Jerry’s Owner to Ditch Ice Cream

By: Julia Mehalko | Last updated: Apr 01, 2024

Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, has announced plans to separate its frozen brands into a division outside of the company’s core business.

This separation will transform the company’s ice cream division into a standalone business. Unilever also revealed that a sale of this division could be possible amidst rumors the company has had enough of Ben and Jerry’s woke politics.

Unilever and Ice Cream

Unilever is one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, with over 128,000 employees across 190 countries.

Five small bowls of different colored ice cream on a white surface.

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The multinational company first entered the ice cream business when it bought Walls in 1922. Since then, the corporation has acquired many other frozen treat brands and businesses.

Unilever Buy Ben and Jerry's

In 1993, Unilever bought Breyers, an ice cream company founded by William A. Breyer in 1866. Seven years later, they purchased the incredibly popular Ben & Jerry’s.

Woman dressed in a yellow sweatshirt uses a spoon to enjoy ice cream

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Today, Unilever’s ice cream division includes five of the top 10 ice cream brands worldwide.

Multinational Company Announces Plans to Restructure Business

Unilever owns some of the world’s most popular ice cream brands, including Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum, and Popsicle.

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In March, a spokesperson for Unilever announced the company’s plans to separate its ice cream brands into a standalone business. 

Unilever Aims to Save Close to $900 Million

The announcement of the stand-alone business comes as the corporation announces its intent to restructure many of its businesses.

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This restructuring is anticipated to save about $870 million.

A New Ice Cream Division

This new ice cream division will be treated as a completely separate business. The division will include all of the frozen treats brands that Unilever currently owns.

An open container of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, with candy and crumbs all around it on a white table.

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Therefore, brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Wall’s, and Breyers will be included in this new business branch. Klondike, Popsicle, Magnum, and Talenti will also be a part of this sector.


Layoffs Will Occur

When discussing this new standalone business, Unilever suggested that its ice cream division will likely be listed as a separate entity, as well.

An old yellow Ben & Jerry’s Volkswagen car parked outside in front of a building.

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However, the company also mentioned it would be open to selling the new frozen division in the future. 


Unilever Strive to Unlock Potential

The company first began speaking about separating the frozen department of the company from the core business back in 2023. 

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At the time, Unilever claimed the planned restructuring would help “to drive growth and unlock potential.”


Layoffs are to be Expected

With the new restructuring, Unilever announced that layoffs are to be expected. 

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This business move and Unilever’s entire restructuring plan could possibly affect about 7,500 jobs. By laying off these workers, the company strives to achieve that $870 million in savings.


Unilever Aims to Focus on Superior Brands

During the announcement, Unilever revealed that its decision came after the board decided to redirect its focus to the company’s superior brands. 

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They aim to focus on “superior brands with strong positions in highly attractive categories that have complementary operating models.”


Ice Cream Has a Different Operating Model

In the announcement, Unilever claimed that separating the ice cream brands from the core of the business would better help the future growth of the company. 

A woman is pictured eating an ice cream on a sunny day

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Speaking on the ice cream business, Unilever said they have “a very different operating model, and as a result, the board has decided that the separation of ice cream best serves the future growth of both ice cream and Unilever.”


The Separation of the Frozen Brands

Speaking to the media, Unilever chair Ian Meakins claimed that forming a new frozen business would benefit the company in the long run.

“The separation of Ice Cream and the delivery of the productivity program (sic) will help create a simpler, more focused, and higher performing Unilever,” he said


Are Unilever Trying to Off Load Ben & Jerry's

“It will also create a world-leading ice cream business, with strong growth prospects and an exciting future as a standalone business,” said Meakins.

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However, after Unilever announced it may be open to selling the new frozen standalone business, many were quick to suggest the multinational company is looking to offload brands like Ben & Jerry’s. 


Unique Relationship Between Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever

Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s have a unique relationship. While Unilever owns the ice cream company, Ben & Jerry’s has its own independent board. 

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From time to time, this has resulted in a fair deal of controversy for the parent company. 


Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s

Though Ben & Jerry’s once was a great asset to Unilever, the relationship between the two companies has subsequently soured over recent years. 

A child holding an ice cream cone against a dark blue background.

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This souring became quite public when Ben & Jerry’s filed a lawsuit against Unilever in 2022.


A Ben & Jerry’s Lawsuit

This Ben & Jerry’s lawsuit occurred after Unilever agreed to sell its business in Israel. Unilever did not receive any consultation from the ice cream brand before making this decision.

A close-up of a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream container with a wooden spoon in it.

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This also occurred right around the time Ben & Jerry’s stopped the sale of their products in Jewish settlements in the contested area of East Jerusalem, as well as in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.


The Companies Reach a Settlement

In December 2022, Unilever settled with Ben & Jerry’s. However, the issues between the brand and the parent company remained. Future disagreements between the two would also become public.

Three big bowls of ice cream on a white surface.

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Recently, a public spat occurred when billionaire Nelson Peltz got on Unilever’s board while also holding a position at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The center had previously called for a boycott of Ben & Jerry’s over their comments denouncing what Israel was doing in Gaza.


An Ongoing Battle

Ben & Jerry’s didn’t like the idea of Peltz joining the Unilever board while also being attached to the center that had publicly told people to not buy their ice cream.

An up-close look at ice cream in a bowl.

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This matter was thought to be resolved when Peltz officially resigned from his spot at the Wiesenthal Center. However, now that Ben & Jerry’s and other ice cream brands are heading to their own division, bad blood may still exist.


Unilever Tired of Ben & Jerry’s Social and Political Stances

Ben & Jerry’s progressive stance on political and social issues has, at times, been referred to as woke politics by several media outlets. 

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According to some experts, the ice cream brand has created various political problems for Unilever over the years and has even alienated various sects of past and potential consumers. 


Changing Consumer Habits

While Unilever has had notable issues with brands like Ben & Jerry’s, other problems have arisen in recent years regarding the sale of ice cream. 

An up-close look at different ice cream types behind glass.

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Overall, sales of the corporation’s ice cream products have only sluggishly risen.


Ice Cream At Rock Bottom of Unilever’s Sales

In 2023, ice cream accounted for only around 13% of Unilevers’ sales, the lowest of its five product groups. 

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This lack of a beneficial rise in sales can be blamed on a lot of reasons. However, some new studies have shown that a decrease in sales may be because of an increase in weight loss drugs like Ozempic.


Some People Aren’t Buying Ice Cream

People who are using these weight loss drugs aren’t actively buying products like ice cream. Instead, they’re buying healthier sweet treats, such as yogurt.

A woman sitting on a couch eating from a bowl that contains yogurt and fruit.

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As the Ozempic fad doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon, ice cream brands will likely have to find a new efficient way to target people who want a sweet treat, yet still want to eat healthy.


Changes Within the Ice Cream Industry

Unilever isn’t alone in its stumbles within the ice cream industry. The industry as a whole has faced a variety of challenges in recent years.

A person holding an ice cream cone.

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Most recently, Nestlé revealed in 2019 that it was going to sell its ice cream businesses. Nestlé used to own popular brands such as Dreyer’s and Häagen-Dazs.


The Future of Ben & Jerry

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