In a move many never likely saw coming, iconic ice cream company Ben & Jerry's has decided to put a part of the business up for sale.
Ben & Jerry’s is one of the most iconic ice cream brands in the United States and worldwide. The company has continuously dished out memorable and innovative flavors, often joining celebrities, pop culture, and music with punny dessert names. After years of distribution, the ice cream brand decides to sell its Israel-centered operations to another conglomerate. But the reason isn’t that Ben & Jerry’s is going away, but due to geopolitical issues that the company executives don’t condone.
Ben & Jerry’s was founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in 1978. Both began the business with little ice cream knowledge and accelerated the company to international fame. Today, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is sold worldwide, to deep excitement from the company’s founders. But with Israel, a military occupation has turned the pair away from wanting operations in the country. Due to Israel’s continued occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the ice cream brand has decided to sell its operations to its Israeli distributor.
Unilever announced Wednesday that Ben & Jerry’s had sold its Middle Eastern operations for an undisclosed amount. The operations were handed over to American Quality Products, which is the company’s ice cream distributor in Israel. Under new ownership, nothing will change about the ice cream recipe or manufacturing except for selling the product with Hebrew and Arabic names. The ice cream will be distributed throughout Israeli and the West Bank.
The relinquishment of Ben & Jerry’s Israeli production comes after years of the founders’ public disagreements with the country’s government. As two Americans who were raised Jewish, speaking against Israeli and its government isn’t an instantaneous or ignorant move. The pair has been critical of the settler state for quite some time, which was elaborated thoroughly in a piece published in the New York Times. Both spoke about their upbringing, religion, and stance on Israel. Though both Cohen and Greenfield stated that they support the country, they are against the military occupation of the Palestinian territories and referred to the United Nations’s ruling on its illegality.
For Ben & Jerry’s, Israel holds a lot of personal weight. It was the first country that the ice cream brand expanded to overseas, and the pair have a rich financial history with customers who reside there. But, both Cohen and Greenfield believe they have to align their business with their personal ethics. They have both participated in actions to reduce the US’s military budget, where some of the money is invested in the Israeli government. The New York Times piece reiterated that their criticism of the state and selling to the company’s Israeli distributor aligns with Ben & Jerry’s morals by divesting from a militant state.
After Ben & Jerry’s spoke openly about Israel last year, a whirlwind of press began both praising or condemning the American business. Many claimed that this action was aligned with the BDS movement, a boycott and sanctions maneuver to put financial pressure on Israel. But Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, stated that the decision to move away from Israeli markets was never to express “any support” for the Palestinian-led movement.