North Texas Daily

Ben and Jerry give students real scoop on running a business

Ben and Jerry give students real scoop on running a business

Ben and Jerry give students real scoop on running a business
April 10
12:22 2015

Paul Wedding / Senior Staff Writer

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield gave UNT students insight Thursday on how they got started and how they support the community through their business.

Cohen and Greenfield are known not only for their ice cream, but for their high ethical standards when it comes to running a business. Many have called them hippies, innovators, or even capitalistic Robin Hoods. They only allow certain ingredients to be used in their products, like eggs from free-range chickens and milk from locally raised cattle. They also don’t use genetically modified organisms in any of their products and contribute more than $2.5 million dollars every year to social movements through the Ben & Jerry’s foundation.

Greenfield stepped up to the podium in the Murchison Performing Arts Center to tell the story of how their business was first started. He had first met his business partner Ben Cohen in 7th grade gym class. Ben had gone to college three separate times against his wishes and had dropped out each time. Jerry had made it through pre-med but was stuck as a lab technician after being rejected from medical school twice.

“We were essentially failing at everything we were trying to do,” Greenfield said.

They realized they wanted to be their own bosses and open up their own business. They enrolled in an ice cream-making course at Penn State for five dollars and split the cost due to limited funds.  After acing all of their open book exams, they decided they were ready to open their own ice cream shop.

They wanted to open one up in a rural college town, figuring that would draw the largest crowd. After going through an atlas and a book of colleges, the duo found that all of them already had ice cream shops. Not wanting to have any competition, they decided to set up shop in Burlington, Vermont, the home of the University of Vermont.

“We thought we would be better off in a place with no competition, because we had no idea what we were doing,” he said.

They had managed to acquire an abandoned gas station near campus. The men had only saved up $8,000 and acquired a loan of $4,000, so they had to buy all used equipment, including a five-gallon ice cream machine and rustic decor.

“The lumber was so green that when you hammered a nail into it, it would squirt back at you,” he said.

They managed great sales during the summer, but winters were hard as nobody wanted to buy ice cream. Cohen had the idea of driving around selling ice cream across Vermont. They bought a used ice cream van and filled it with tubs to sell to the community.

The van was old, and was breaking down so often that it ended up costing more to drive it. That was when they started packing them in pints instead to sell to local grocery stores.

“That’s how Ben & Jerry’s stumbled into the ice cream manufacturing and distribution business,” Greenfield said.

They were doing very well after that, he said. They managed to acquire large distributors in Boston and Connecticut. This was until Pillsbury ordered their distributors to stop selling Ben & Jerry’s or risk losing Häagen-Dasz. When they shared the news with Cohen, he couldn’t help but laugh.

“I can’t believe that Pillsbury and Häagen-Dasz are worried about little old Ben & Jerry’s in Burlington, Vermont,” Cohen said.

Though an advertising campaign run across magazines and telephone messages, they managed to start a grassroots uprising that made Ben & Jerry’s bigger than ever, maybe a little too big for their liking as they started to feel like they’d actually become businessmen.

“We felt like our business was becoming just another cog in the machine,” Greenfield said.

They decided they change how their business was done. They wanted to make a business that supported their community by allowing the public to purchase stocks of Ben & Jerry’s.

“If we’re going to grow our business, we’re going to do it in a way that’s consistent with our values,” he said.

Cohen discussed what their company has done to improve the community. He told the crowd business is the most powerful force in modern society. Unlike former forces, such as religion, business has the narrow self-interest of business alone, he said.

Cohen said that businesses following a selfish philosophy cause a negative fallout that can destroy society. When he and Greenfield had gone to a workshop and met other CEO’s, and saw that they were also good guys that gave generously, it made him wonder how business was not doing its part in helping society.

“The solution was to change the way we measure success,” Cohen said.

Ben & Jerry’s business model from then on was to help as much of the community as possible without interfering with profit. They buy their ingredients from communities in need, like coffee beans from Mexican villages and Brazil nuts from South America so as to preserve the rainforest.

Cohen spoke about the influence of corporations on government. He did this through a demonstration involving BB pellets and a bucket. While 90 percent of the population contributed zero dollars to campaign contributions, the average contribution of the top 100 corporations was 10,000 BB’s dropped in the bucket, equal to $6 million due to a Supreme Court ruling that corporations can be considered people.

Ben & Jerry came up with a campaign called Stamp Stampede to create an amendment that would remove corporate involvement from government.

“If the Supreme Court says money is free speech, then we’re going to make our dollars scream” Cohen said.

The campaign provides stamps to put on dollars with sayings such as “Stamp money out of politics” and “Not to be used for bribing politicians.”

Cohen and Greenfield ended the speech, reciting their stamp pledge along with the entire audience.

“One nation uncorruptible, with liberty and justice for all,” they said.

Featured Image: Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream speaks at UNT on Thursday. The two were a part of the Distinguished Lecture Series and spoke in the Murchison Performing Arts Center. Photo by Devin Dakota – Staff Photographer

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