Here’s a very interesting report on some internal conflict within the massive conglomerate we call Unilever: seems that the company and one of its most valued properties disagree on the issue of genetically modified organisms in food.
Matthew Boyle of Bloomberg reports that, while Ben & Jerry’s strongly supports its home state’s new law requiring GMO foods to be labeled as such, Unilever does not. Shocking, we know.
Yet Unilever allows the ice cream kings to be outspoken in their advocacy because, as an analyst tells Bloomberg:
“I don’t think they will ever want the potentially massive negative PR of trying to silence B&J.”
The thing is, Unilever will eventually have to reconcile this conflict. Food advocacy groups like “the Organic Consumers Association, a Minnesota-based advocacy group” have called B&J out for the perceived hypocrisy of advocating against GMOs while being a Unilever property; meanwhile, retail advocacy groups representing the stores that sell Ben & Jerry’s filed suits to block laws like the one recently passed in Vermont. Also: B&J’s current CEO Jostein Solheim, a former Unilever executive who took the top role in 2010 after the sale, officially opposes the requirements as well.
Amusingly, B&J has donated to anti-GMO groups while decrying the “powerful corporate interests” opposing them. Who do you think they’re referencing?
A Unilever spokesperson says:
“Ben & Jerry’s position on labeling long predates its acquisition…Unilever does not oppose GMO labeling in countries that require it.”
They just don’t think the U.S. should require it, because related laws could “drive up a family’s annual food bill by as much as $500.”
Hmm. As much as Unilever would like to have it both ways, the existing balance cannot be sustained. Either the parent company will have to adjust its stance or it will be forced to rein in the ice cream mavens’ messaging efforts.
Should be interesting.