Devotees of ethical consumerism were dismayed when The Body Shop was sold last month to a company part-owned by Nestlé.
They may now have further food for thought following reports that the company set up by the vegetarian trailblazer Linda McCartney is also about to be swallowed up by the Swiss food giant, which is named today among a top 10 of "unethical" multinational companies.
The late wife of Sir Paul McCartney popularised a meat-free diet in the 1980s through her best-selling cookbooks, and in 1991 launched her eponymous range of frozen meals.
The McCartney range, benefiting from celebrity endorsement and early entry into the market, has been a staple of British supermarket freezers for 15 years and is even popular among some non-vegetarians. Her guide to vegetarian cooking, Linda McCartney's Home Cooking, became the best-selling vegetarian book in the UK and has sold more than 250,000 copies.
Now the food giant Heinz, which has owned the range for seven years, is thought to be preparing to sell it and other frozen foods lines, which are suffering a slump as consumers turn to chilled, ready-prepared microwave meals in the belief that they are healthier. The same trend caused a 13 per cent drop in sales of the Birds Eye range, which is being sold by Unilever.
Nestlé owns 50.1 per cent of Israel's Ossem, whose subsidiary Tivall is understood to be preparing an offer for the McCartney range. Tivall already sells similar products to the British supermarkets Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury and Tesco.
Heinz would not comment on the McCartney range, but a spokesperson told The Business: "We continue to explore options to maximise the value of the frozen food business." It is thought that Heinz rejected recent bids for some parts of its frozen food division for being too low but is determined to sell off the McCartney range.
If the deal goes ahead, the association with Nestlé may provoke a strong reaction from some consumers, based on the experience of The Body Shop, the champion of ethical beauty products formed by Dame Anita Roddick.
L'Oréal, the world's largest cosmetics producer which is accused of flouting bans on animal testing, paid £625m for The Body Shop last month. Campaigners against animal testing and Nestlé, which has a 26 per cent share in L'Oréal, called for a boycott of The Body Shop. Last week a market research company found that "satisfaction" with The Body Shop had slumped by almost half since the deal. The daily BrandIndex found that since the announcement the satisfaction rating had dropped by 11 points to 14.
Campaigners against Nestlé, which was recently voted the world's least responsible company in an internet poll, said The Body Shop was paying the price for allying itself with the firm.
Nestlé is among a top 10 of "unethical" multinational companies in an Ethical Index by the market research firm The Fraser Consultancy published today. The Swiss company is 10th on a list headed by McDonald's, with Nike and Shell in second and third place respectively. About 1,300 respondents rated the burger chain unethical, a response thought to have been influenced by the hit documentary film, Supersize Me.