When in 1978, two friends took a $5 correspondence course on ice cream-making and opened a shop in a gas station in Burlington, Vt., nobody would have predicted the scale or scope of their success.
Although sold to multinational Unilever in 2000, for the past 30 years, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, have been everything from peace activists to rainforest conservationists and political messengers.
As they announce the 100 per cent transition to fair trade by 2013, Metro speaks to the flavoursome duo about chocolate brownies, sustainable farming and make shift solar panels.
Why the move to fair trade?
Ben: We want to be able to help the people that find themselves at the bottom of the totem pole, integrating social and economic concerns into our product. The move further reinforces the fact that our company is values-led and not market-driven. Most companies will simply assess what it is that consumers want and the levels of demand and then look no further beyond filling those needs. What Ben and Jerry aims to do is to be ahead of the game in such a way that we are not led by demand, but by our internal values, principles, and beliefs, such as supporting fair trade.
Where will the ingredients be sourced from mainly?
Jerry: Ingredients are being sourced from all around the world. Off the top of my head, I can say that our bananas come from Ecuador, vanilla from India, cocoa from Ivory Coast and the Dominican Republic and walnuts and almonds from Pakistan.
What does becoming 100 per cent fair trade represent on a bigger scale?
Ben: In the U.S., the shift to sourcing the entirety of our ingredients from fair trade sources is breaking ground although in Europe, we are simple following the trend (in the U.K., recognition of fair-trade products is approximately 80 per cent, in the U.S., less than 30 per cent).
Ben & Jerry’s is famous for using the product as a manner of addressing sensitive issues such as climate change, gay rights, politics and global warming. How did this need to make a point come about?
Ben: Ice cream is such a sweet and innocent communication tool through which we can tackle tough issues. Business can be at the root of many social problems, something Jerry and I have never wanted to be part of. I guess we never realized we were pioneers seeing how clueless we were, but we did know that we wanted to find a way for our business to serve the needs of society, especially for those economically oppressed.
Jerry: In the Eighties we had the ‘peace pop,’ chocolate on a stick, aimed at redirecting money from the military budget into peace activities, we had the ‘American Pie,’ that was about the federal budget pie and how too much of taxpayers' money was being spent on defence by the Pentagon. We renamed the flavour chubby hubby to ‘hubby hubby’ to make a statement on the issue of gay marriage and we also had the ‘rainforest crunch’ that indirectly went towards rainforest preservation.