Unilever reports diving sales in Southeast Asia amid anti-Israel boycotts

Company sees notable decline in business in Indonesia as Muslim-majority countries punish firms seen backing Israel; says no supply issues from Red Sea attacks

The Unilever logo above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, March 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
The Unilever logo above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, March 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

LONDON — Britain’s Unilever said on Thursday that fourth-quarter sales growth in Southeast Asia had been hurt by shoppers in Indonesia boycotting brands of multinational companies “in response to the geopolitical situation in the Middle East.”

The maker of Dove soap, Knorr stock cubes and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is among several Western brands that have seen protests and boycott campaigns against them — particularly in countries with large Muslim populations — over their perceived pro-Israeli stance in the Israel-Hamas war.

McDonald’s this week posted its first quarterly sales miss in nearly four years, partly due to the conflict in the Middle East. The company said the war had “meaningfully impacted” performance in some overseas markets.

In Indonesia, home to more than 200 million Muslims, Unilever’s fourth-quarter sales declined by double-digits, the company said, adding that it has “since seen some improvement to customer and consumer uptake in January.”

Unilever CEO Hein Schumacher said the company was otherwise “not seeing material impacts to our supply chain” as a result of the Israel-Hamas war and related attacks on vessels in the Red Sea.

“There are some small interruptions obviously for some key ingredients and on shipping and so forth. So there’s some delay but I wouldn’t call it material,” Schumacher said on a call with journalists.

Ice cream containers at the Ben and Jerry’s factory near Kiryat Malachi, on July 21, 2021. (Flash90)

“We are working with big forwarders and carriers and I’m aware of them taking longer routes,” he added, saying that much of Unilever’s products and materials are sourced locally and regionally to where they’re sold.

Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s board last month called for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

The brand announced in July 2021 that it would stop sales in the West Bank and parts of East Jerusalem, saying selling ice cream in the Palestinian territories was “inconsistent with our values.”

The move sparked a public battle between Unilever and the brand, with many Jewish consumers launching boycotts of the ice creamery.

In 2022, Unilever sold its interest in the concessionaire producing and distributing Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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