Zehavit Cohen Quits Position at Tnuva; Dairy Companies Vow to Lower Prices

Zehavit Cohen, CEO of Apax Partners, announced yesterday that she was leaving her positions as chairman of Tnuva and Psagot, Apax's two main holdings in Israel. Cohen will continue as a director at Tnuva, and will be replaced as chairman by Shlomo Rodev.

Last week the Antitrust Commission searched Tnuva's headquarters and questioned Cohen under caution. She is suspected of concealing documents from the authorities that reveal that Tnuva used its monopolistic power to raise prices. Cohen claimed that it was her decision to step down, but sources in Apax Global claimed that her step reflected the wishes of the company's headquarters in London.

Zehavit Cohen - Moti Milrod - September 2011
Moti Milrod

According to Cohen, "I received this decision so that both companies should have a full-time chairman, who could invest all his time in the companies, focusing on their growth in the changing economic climate. As I stated in the past, an investment house should not have any cloud hanging over it, and I decided to suspend myself from all my positions in Psagot, until the antitrust investigation in Tnuva is over."

This wasn't the only drama yesterday at Tnuva.

A short time after Cohen's announcement Tnuva announced that it was cutting prices by up to 15 percent for its least expensive hard and soft cheeses, and by 7 percent for some of its dairy desserts, succumbing to pressure from a consumer boycott. Tnuva will now try to mend its relations with the consumers by launching a new campaign focusing on the price cuts, together with advertising giant McCann Erickson. It took its competitors a few hours to react, but by 4 P.M. Strauss, too, announced price cuts, due to "a decrease in the price of unprocessed milk." Strauss announced a 12 percent cut in soft cheeses, and an 8 percent cut in the price of "Milky" deserts, bringing the retail price down to NIS 2.06. Despite attributing the cuts to the decrease in the price of unprocessed milk, Strauss chose not to cut prices of yogurts or milk.

Israel's third largest dairy company, Tara, also announced price cuts a short time after Strauss, but as opposed to its competitors did not reveal the extent of the cuts or what products would be cheaper.

A senior official in one of the supermarket chains said: "The fact that Strauss and Tara waited until Tnuva announced its price cuts smacks of price-fixing and cartels."

Tnuva claimed that all in all, the consumers will pay NIS 125 million less per year. The company will lose NIS 77.8 million from the retail chains. Tnuva added that the move six weeks ago, when the company cut the price of cottage cheese, cost it NIS 47 million.