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  19 Apr 2024  Why ‘going woke’ backfired for this ice cream company

Why ‘going woke’ backfired for this ice cream company

SPOTLIGHT
Published : Apr 19, 2024, 12:02 pm IST
Updated : Apr 19, 2024, 12:02 pm IST

Given the environmental benefits of using palm oil, why did Ben & Jerry’s stand so firmly stand against it

The rate of deforestation in places like Malaysia, which produces much of the world’s palm oil, have been trending lower for some time.
 The rate of deforestation in places like Malaysia, which produces much of the world’s palm oil, have been trending lower for some time.

Ben & Jerry’s is a global ice cream brand, selling ice cream in several countries around the world. But in recent years, it has become much more than an ice cream company. Ben & Jerry’s has become embroiled in left-wing activism, campaigning on climate change, the war in Gaza, American culture wars, and more.

Now, its chickens have come home to roost. Unilever, the consumer giant which owns Ben & Jerry’s, is dumping the brand. It was a long time coming, but Unilever’s patience with having to explain the ice cream brand’s political activism wore thin. Ben & Jerry’s ‘went woke’ and now it is heading out the door.
Unilever will save a lot of money by ditching Ben & Jerry’s – around US$870 million, according to one estimate – but its reasons for getting out of the ice cream business run deeper than cash. Ben & Jerry’s has become impossible to control. Its management seems to relish courting controversy online by making outrageous political statements which even left-wing pundits disagree with, such as calling for the police to be defunded and for Mount Rushmore to be returned to indigenous Americans.

Ben & Jerry’s put politics ahead of profit. To a sensible company like Unilever, that’s a recipe for disaster, so ditching this rebellious brand was inevitable. Ben & Jerry’s political activism was especially damaging because it was not limited to social media. It also bled over into the way the company is run.

For example, as part of its climate activism, Ben & Jerry’s has sworn off palm oil. Palm oil is an ingredient used in countless food products, including many ice creams, but a subset of loud environmental campaigners claim it hurts the planet. As a result, Ben & Jerry’s refuses to use palm oil in its products and campaigns aggressively against it.
 
Unfortunately, the truth is not on the side of these determined environmentalists. In reality, palm oil has strong environmental credentials. Even the WWF says its use can benefit the planet by, among other things, helping lower rates of deforestation. Instead of engaging constructively with this important discussion and throwing their weight behind sustainable palm oil production, Ben & Jerry’s chose sensationalism and grandstanding, furthering their reputation as purveyors of empty gestures.
 
The rate of deforestation in places like Malaysia, which produces much of the world’s palm oil, have been trending lower for some time. A Global Forest Watch report from 2023 shows a sharp reduction in forest loss. Reversing deforestation is achievable. But Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t want to know because the truth undermines their political narrative.
 
Initiatives employed by the Malaysian government and oil corporations are bearing fruit, with a whopping 83% of palm oil refining capacity now operating under a commitment to ‘no deforestation, peat and exploitation’ (NDPE). In other words, it’s perfectly possible to produce palm oil in an environmentally friendly way. A sensible ice cream business would have seen that. But Ben & Jerry’s stuck its flag in the ground with its anti-palm oil activism and refused to change its mind.
 
Given the environmental benefits of using palm oil, why did Ben & Jerry’s stand so firmly stand against it? Because it presented another opportunity for online virtue-signalling. Yet again, they put their political posturing ahead of profit. In this case, their carelessness also ended up promoting harmful environmental messaging by undermining palm oil.

There is a key lesson here for other brands to learn. Consumers do not want politics with their food, especially political activism which seems to thrive off online vitriol. Unilever is freeing itself of Ben & Jerry’s nonsense and won’t look back.

Disclaimer: No Asian Age journalist was involved in creating this content. The group also takes no responsibility for this content.

 

Tags: infocus, ice cream, ice cream business