Tnuva Profit Disclosed as Consumer Boycotts Hit New Targets

Protest leaders meet with Tnuva corporate leaders Tuesday, present demands and threats.

Amid boycott threats spreading like wildfire, Tnuva published its financial statement for 2010, on Tuesday, revealing a meteoric increase in profit since an international investment fund bought the company in 2007. From an operating loss of NIS 32 million in 2007, Tnuva achieved operating income of NIS 710 million in 2010, and netted more than half a billion shekels.

A year and a half ago Tnuva chief financial officer Lauri Hanover stated that compiling a financial report that met international standards would cost NIS 56 million, require the creation of a new computer system and new manpower - which would take a long time. Possibly the report Tnuva delivered on Tuesday doesn't meet all the international standards.

The success of the cost-of-living protest movement, which began four months ago from frustration at the soaring price of cottage cheese, created new alliances on Tuesday. Leaders of student groups protesting the cost of living combined forces with leaders of the "cottage cheese protest" to meet with corporate leaders and present their demands - and threats.

Encouraged by the capitulation of Tnuva on Sunday - shortly after chairwoman Zehavit Cohen announced her sudden resignation, the company announced a wide range of price cuts - the protest movements have aimed their sights at Strauss Group, maker of dairy, salads, coffee and chocolates; Osem, manufacturer of pastas, snacks, baked goods and more; and Telma, a processed-foods manufacturer. (For more on the threats, see Page 2 ).

Super-Sol, which had also been a target of a student boycott, is preparing for a sea-change in Israeli consumerism, a source near the supermarket giant said on Tuesday. It may even start importing products itself in order to lower prices for consumers, he said.

Strauss Group management evidently feels for the people, but also feels rather lonely, it seems.

"Food prices in Israel are among the most expensive in the world," Strauss Group CEO Zion Balas said Tuesday during a meeting with leaders of the protest movement. But Strauss can't fix the world all by itself, he said, paraphrasing a statement from group chairwoman Ofra Strauss several weeks ago. The retail chains and government also have to play their part, Balas said.

The protest leaders said they expect Strauss and other companies to make every effort to lower food prices across the board after the holidays. They also clarified that as far as they are concerned, if a product is branded Strauss, the company is responsible for getting its price lowered.

Moreover, the protest leaders said, they expect the blanket retreat in price to cover Strauss' cheeses, its lines of dips and salads such as tehina and hummus, and to include its coffee and chocolate too.

Balas insisted that even though Strauss' announcement that it would lower prices chased Tnuva's on Sunday, the rival food company wasn't the impetus. Strauss had planned the move for that day, he said: The fact that Tnuva also issued its statement that same day was a coincidence.

The protesters insist that Strauss' prices should drop right after the holidays, but that might not be possible, Balas said. The price cuts could take effect over a year, he said.

Meanwhile, the boycott of Tnuva continues despite the company's announcement Sunday that it would be lowering the prices of dozens of products by as much as 15%. Not only is Tnuva still on the blacklist: The boycott has expanded to its subsidiaries Sunfrost, which makes frozen vegetables, and Mama Off, which makes frozen processed poultry products.