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Unilever spinning off Ben & Jerry’s into separate unit in corporate overhaul

Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever plans a massive overhaul that includes job cuts and a global restructuring which will have the Vermont-based ice cream maker operate under a separate umbrella along with its sister brands Breyers and Klondike. The popular seller of flavors like Chunky Monkey and Salted Caramel Brownie is one of more than 400 brands in the Unilever portfolio, which includes Dove, Lipton, Hellmann’s, Knorr, and others. Unilever investors expressed dismay last year when Ben & Jerry’s refused to sell its products in the Israeli-occupied West Bank — prompting demands for a boycott of the popular ice cream brand. Unilever has said its hands were tied and it could not pressure Ben & Jerry’s to reverse its stance due to the terms of its $326 million acquisition of the ice cream maker in 2000. It is unclear if the public backlash to Ben & Jerry’s decision played a role in the parent company’s restructuring. The company also announced that it was cutting 1,500 management-level positions worldwide — a 15% reduction in senior managers and 5% of junior managers. Unilever, which employs 149,000 people globally, said the restructuring will not affect its factory workers. “Growth remains our top priority and these changes will underpin our pursuit of this,” Unilever CEO Alan Jope said. “Moving to five category-focused business groups will enable us to be more responsive to consumer and channel trends, with crystal-clear accountability for delivery.” Jope has come under pressure to boost growth at the company for months, particularly in light of last week’s move by activist investor Nelson Peltz to acquire a stake in Unilever. Peltz is the head of the Trian Fund Management LP hedge fund. He bought his stake in Unilever just before the company launched its failed, $68 billion bid for health care giant GlaxoSmithKline. Unilever is reorganizing its businesses into five category-focused divisions — ice cream, beauty and well-being, personal care, home care, and nutrition. The move is seen by analysts as a precursor to the company eventually selling off some of its weaker brands, most notably hygiene and packaged foods products. Previously, the company divided its holdings into three categories — food and refreshments, beauty and personal care, and home care.

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