Ben & Jerry’s isn’t shy about the causes it supports—there’s an entire page on the brand’s website providing information about voting rights, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, climate justice, and campaign finance reform.
“We have a progressive, nonpartisan social mission that seeks to meet human needs and eliminate injustices in our local, national, and international communities by integrating these concerns in our day-to-day business activities,” the site reads. “Capitalism and the wealth it produces do not create opportunity for everyone equally.” For a business that inherently exists to make money, it’s an interesting angle to take.
And it’s one that Ben & Jerry’s has backed up with action, proving that the brand is not just trying to make a buck because being progressive is trendy. Last summer, the company showed its support of Palestine by discontinuing sales in Occupied Palestinian Territory. In 2020, Ben & Jerry’s made a public statement calling for the dismantling of white supremacy, outlining the specific political action to be taken to do so. The brand also pushes for justice within the food industry, fighting to make sure the farmers who supply Ben & Jerry’s with cocoa are doing so under humane conditions.
Those values are often channeled into flavors; most recently Ben & Jerry’s released an updated version of Change Is Brewing, a cold brew coffee ice cream with marshmallow swirls and fudge brownies “to highlight the power of Black voters and encourage voter participation.” The pint features a new design by artist Laci Jordan and along with raising awareness through the flavor, the company has teamed up with Georgia-based Black Voters Matter to make a real difference on the ground.
So how does a company situated in our modern capitalist society take a stand and actually back it up while still keeping its business profitable? We reached out via email to Ben & Jerry’s spokesperson Sean Greenwood, who provided answers on behalf of the company.
The Takeout: Ben & Jerry’s always seems unafraid to make a political statement. Has that always been important to the brand?
Ben & Jerry’s: As of the first year in business, the statement the cofounders uttered was “Business has a responsibility to give back to the community.” We have continued to try to be that business and live up to that mantra. It’s not about making statements to get in the press. Much of the work we do is behind the scenes as we try to be very clear that our values and Social Mission activations/campaigns are not marketing.
Our cofounder, Ben, says: “The strongest tie you can have with your fans is through shared values.” Those beliefs and a strong emphasis on our Mission Statement is why it is part of the business DNA at Ben & Jerry’s.
TO: How do you prepare for the inevitable pushback to these political statements?
B&J: You know that not everyone is going to like it and that’s fine. What’s most important is that we take stances that align with our values. Then we’re walking the talk. If we believe that there is a system of white supremacy in our country and you, as a potential customer, disagree, we’re happy to stand by our position.
TO: What is the creative process behind building these ideas into an ice cream flavor, like Change is Brewing?
B&J: Sometimes we have great flavors already developed that fit in well with the campaign. Sometimes we work on incorporating an ingredient that is essential to that campaign. In this case with Change is Brewing, we included coffee micro grounds as a base flavor to support a Black-owned coffee roasting business (BLK & BOLD). It all depends on the campaign and what we’re trying to accomplish. Overall the flavor creation process can take up to 18 months from concept to finish.
TO: How do you balance making profits as a company with creating real social change?
B&J: We have a three-part mission statement that clearly outlines we should have equal investment in our products, our profit, and how we support our global community. That is certainly helpful for us to understand how we operate our business and we use that mission statement on a daily basis to help guide us. If it feels really difficult, then you’re probably on the right track!
TO: How would you encourage other companies to put action behind such statements?
B&J: We love the idea of businesses being active and using their force for good. We also understand inherently that all businesses need to operate as themselves. We shouldn’t try to be Patagonia, Patagonia shouldn’t try to be Lush cosmetics, and so on. But what kind of a world would it be if every business could support the initiative to do better, look to support those who are marginalized, embrace social, racial, and environmental justice?
I believe we saw a phoenix of sorts for businesses to want to get involved after the murder of George Floyd. With an issue as sensitive as racial justice is, many businesses recoil from the effort because of blowback from their fans. That is certainly jumping into the deep end of the pool. It’s probably most logical for businesses who want to try to start small, and find something within their supply chain or business model that makes sense to try to incorporate your values and then learn from that and do more.
TO: How do you hope Ben & Jerry’s is perceived by customers?
B&J: I think we like to use the word “fans” instead of customers as we think we have a deeper connection and relationship with those who support our company—just as much as we like to get involved in issues that are more significant, and not just simply trying to sell ice cream.
That being said, we want our actions to match our values. When they don’t, that makes my job really difficult! If we’re doing it right, then our fans are inspired and want to join us on the campaigns that we set out to pursue. We do have a philosophy that we want to love our fans as much as they love us, and we’re thankful, but that often takes a lot of work.
TO: Any other new flavors or initiatives in the works that you can share?
B&J: We are taking the Change is Brewing flavor out on the road! So the launch event on September 20 was not so much an ending but the beginning. We are out reviving our “democracy is in your hands” campaign that we originally launched in 2016. At that time we were trying to empower voters in Black communities. We learned a lot about voter suppression and similar tactics that have been utilized such as gerrymandering.
Fast forward six years later, we’re now working with the organization Black Voters Matter to shine the light on those issues and try to do what we can to empower Black voters today and in the crucial election coming up in November. Other than that, I believe the next flavor announcement is slated for mid-December, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for that unveiling.