North Texas Daily

Ben & Jerry’s founders talk business, social issues

Ben & Jerry’s founders talk business, social issues

Ben & Jerry’s founders talk business, social issues
March 31
00:05 2015

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

Fans of Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey will get a special treat next week when the founders of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream appear on campus to speak about the dessert business and its social responsibility practices, followed by an ice cream party.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who launched the company in 1978, will start their presentation at 7 p.m. April 9 at the Murchison Performing Arts Center as part of the UNT Distinguished Lecture Series.

Student Affairs special projects coordinator Michelle Bradley said the event will provide students, faculty and community members with a sneak peek into one of the country’s least conventional success stories.

“They’re going to be talking about their journey toward founding Ben & Jerry’s,” Bradley said. “They had some hardships along the way and obviously found successes. It’s their story of building this company from the ground up and how that worked.”

After the event, free cups of ice cream will be offered to attendees, who can choose one of three flavors: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Strawberry Cheesecake and the famed Cherry Garcia, a tribute to the late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia.

“They tried to make it as diverse as possible so that everyone kind of has something to their taste,” Bradley said.

From Vermont to the world

With a $5 Pennsylvania State University correspondence course in ice cream-making and a  $12,000 investment, Cohen and Greenfield opened the first Ben & Jerry’s homemade ice cream parlor at a renovated gas station in Vermont.

The shop quickly became a town favorite, celebrating its one-year anniversary by offering customers free scoops of ice cream – a tradition that continues every April 14 on Free Cone Day.

Although the original shop was demolished four years later in 1982, word of its ice cream spread across the state and eventually the country, even going global from Australia to the United Kingdom.

The company is now worth more than $300 million and has become a symbol of modern American entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility. It is also recognized for its involvement in political matters, like offering health insurance benefits to domestic partners of employees, including same-sex couples.

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Ben & Jerry’s founders Jerry Greenfield, left, and Ben Cohen will speak at UNT on April 9 in the Murchison Performing Arts Center with an ice cream party to follow.

“We have a long history of commitment to social justice, a commitment that is grounded deep in our company’s core values,” said Lindsay Bumps, a public relations spokesperson at Ben & Jerry’s. “We believe all people deserve full and equal civil rights.”

Because of these engagements, Bradley said attendees will certainly enjoy stories about the founders’ experiences and the business philosophy that led to their success.

“We’re excited to be hosting the founders of one of the most iconic brands in our lifetime, she said. “It’s the cherry on top that they’re bringing ice cream with them.”

Sustaining entrepreneurship

In addition to making a name for themselves in the ice cream industry, Cohen and Greenfield have also dipped their business into the growing number of socially conscious corporations.

The founders detailed their company’s dedication to corporate social responsibility in their national bestseller, “Ben & Jerry’s Double-Dip: How to Run a Values-Led Business and Make Money, Too.”

The company uses fair trade ingredients in their products and hosts community-based development projects through the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation and Community Action Teams.

Ben & Jerry’s is also a member of the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies and has received several awards, including the Corporate Giving Award in 1988 and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s Award for Corporate Foundation in 2014, for its work in implementing sustainable farming practices, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and employing waste reduction techniques.

“Ben & Jerry’s talks the talk and walks the walk,” Bumps said. “We do what we believe is right, not for the exposure or media attention, but because it’s the best thing to do as a business.”

Jose Grimaldo, Jr., associate director for program development at the Center for Logistics Education and Research and a personal fan of the Cherry Garcia ice cream flavor, said Ben & Jerry’s commitment to sustainability and eco-friendly activities are a result of its desire to maintain a competitive advantage while doing good for society.

“It’s part of their corporate culture and commitment to their employees, suppliers, and most importantly their customers,” Grimaldo said. “They are committed to being holistic in this endeavor.”

Not just neapolitan

The importance of corporate social responsibility lies in its stakeholders, who can affect a business’s actions as well as its outcomes.

Because of changing times and demographics, consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and companies that adhere to their customers’ beliefs can strengthen their image, which can lead to growth in patronage, strategic marketing professor Charles Blankson said.

“Companies that are not pursuing corporate social responsibility, to an extent, tend to be companies that people see as illegitimate companies,” he said. “It can make or break a given company. If you really want to do well in the long term, you have to add corporate social responsibility to your business model.”

Terrence Suber, a professional selling professor who formerly worked for the Coca-Cola company, said cultural diversity is another area in which large corporations must pay attention to.

Ben & Jerry’s focus on creating products that target specific cultures, such as a charoset-flavored ice cream for its customers in Israel, versus just the chocolate, vanilla and strawberry brands can attract consumers who would normally ignore the product, Suber said.

Add this to a focus on corporate social responsibility, and a company can make significant gains in consumer following, he said.

“If two companies are offering products that are in the same category and they are similar, I would lean toward the company that is probably more socially conscious, particularly in specific social areas that are very concerning and important to me,” Suber said. “I would tend to want to do business with them if their beliefs are my beliefs.”

Student tickets for the Ben & Jerry’s lecture are free while faculty, staff and alumni tickets are $15. Guests are charged $5 per ticket. All tickets can be ordered online at http://studentaffairs.unt.edu/ben-n-jerry and should be picked up in person at the Murchison Box Office.

Student Affairs will have a tabling on April 1 at the Stovall Temporary Union Building to give away a VIP ticket, which will includes VIP seating and access to a private reception with the speakers after the event.

Featured Image: A container of cookie dough ice cream made by Ben & Jerry’s. Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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