General Mills Says Business, Not BDS, Involved In Israel Decision

JLens, an investor network that explores a Jewish lens on impact investing, put Golden Valley-based General Mills on its do-not-invest list Wednesday afternoon “for acquiescing to [Boycott, Divest and Sanction] and making misleading statements to the Jewish community and investors.” The multinational food company is pulling its Pillsbury product line from shelves in Israel, but General Mills said this has nothing to do with the BDS movement and is strictly a business decision.

“JLens does not take lightly decisions to add a company to our Do Not Invest list, as our preferred approach is to develop long-term advocacy relationships with companies,” Julie Hammerman, CEO of JLens, said to eJewishPhilanthropy. “We remain open to dialogue with General Mills but we have confirmed our conclusions that the company is removing the entire Pillsbury brand…from Israel.”

In a statement Thursday night, General Mills said that it was continuing to serve Israeli customers with Häagen-Dazs ice cream and Nature Valley snack bars, for example, and is looking for ways to bring additional brands to Israel.

“We reject false claims that this decision was made in response to outside pressure or for political reasons,” the statement read. “Our global business strategy drove this decision. We look forward to bringing more products to Israeli consumers which will be distributed without restriction.”

The Pillsbury brand is one of more than 100 subsidiaries that General Mills owns. An heir of the Pillsbury family had been agitating for a boycott of Israel by General Mills. Pillsbury, however, does not have the same arrangement as Ben & Jerry’s, which maintained an independent board of directors after it became a wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever. Ben & Jerry’s announced last year that it would halt sales in the West Bank, and recently sued to try and prevent Unilever from selling the Israeli business to a distributor who would resume sales there.

This is the second time in three months that General Mills has been called out for moving business out of Israel. This past May it was deemed a business decision by General Mills to sell its stake in a joint venture in Israel, which principally marketed dough products under the Pillsbury brand. The company said that divestiture was part of a restructuring of its portfolio around the world, including the announcement of the proposed sale of a European dough business.

“We have made clear the global business strategy that drove this decision,” a spokesperson for the company told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in June. “Any claims by others taking credit for this decision are false.”

The May decision prompted a statement from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

“General Mills’ declaration that it ‘continues to sell our products in Israel and look forward to continuing to serve Israeli consumers with our other brands’ as well as its statement that ‘[a]ny claims by others taking credit for this decision are false’ is a definitive rebuke of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement which dishonestly claimed victory for what is exclusively a business decision,” JCRC Executive Director Steve Hunegs said at the time. “The JCRC appreciates the opportunity to work directly with General Mills … securing [this] reaffirmation.”