Supporting What Matters Most: The Scoop on Ben & Jerry’s
By Robert Grupp
In the United States, businesses are often viewed as a source of power in society. Businesses produce products and services, create jobs, and influence everything from lifestyle to politics. So when an organization has something to say, society tends to listen.
Ben & Jerry’s is a great example of a company making an impact on the society it serves.
At Ben & Jerry’s, the company’s three-part mission drives everything it does. Its economic mission focuses on sustainable financial growth. The social mission compels the company to find innovative ways to make the world a better place, and the product mission focuses on making delicious, high-quality ice cream. Together, this mission drives everything Ben & Jerry’s does.
At the 2019 Strategic Communication Summit, Sean Greenwood, the “Grand Poobah of Public Relations.” as he calls himself (Sean is Director of Public Relations and Communications at Ben & Jerry’s), shared how the company uses its status and success to make a meaningful impact on society.
“We (Ben & Jerry’s) believe that if an issue is important, you will take to the street and get involved,” Greenwood says.
Many businesses steer clear from sensitive issues like gender equality, racism or political issues for fear of losing business or support from some segment of consumers, but Ben & Jerry’s confronts those issues head-on and finds creative ways to offer a voice.
“At Ben & Jerry’s, we really feel like it’s our responsibility to get involved in those issues because we are a (value) business. If we can use our voice to take a stance on some of those things, live our mission, activate on our values and serve our company purpose,” Greenwood said.
Ben & Jerry’s considers itself to be “an aspiring social justice company that happens to sell ice cream.” The company wants people to love its products, but the company also feels a higher calling to serve delicious pints or scoops with a side of impact.
When founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield launched their ice cream company in the late 1970s, they knew they wanted to offer a fun product while being responsible to the community from which they draw support. As Jerry Greenfield famously says, “you’ve got to take to the streets” and march for or otherwise support what matters most. This can happen through special flavor launches, grassroots movements, and more.
In 2009, Ben & Jerry’s renamed its popular “Chubby Hubby” flavor to “Hubby Hubby” as a way to offer support for legalized same-sex marriage. The company went to the streets and town halls to share scoops and celebrate that people should have the right to marry who they love.
Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t change a name or launch a new flavor as a marketing ploy. Instead, the company does something because the company believes in it. Sales might be impacted, but at the end of the day, the company is staying true to its mission.
The public relations team knows that supporting controversial issues requires a crisis communication plan in case of backlash or unexpected results. The team thoughtfully considers how to approach an issue before launching a new product or becoming vocal publicly.
Ben & Jerry’s took another stand when the company launched its “Pecan Resist” flavor after President Trump was elected. This flavor launch signified a peaceful resistance to say that the company didn’t like the way elected officials were acting on issues it cared about. Ben & Jerry’s selected four groups to benefit from a new flavor. The organizations selected all value inclusivity, equality, and justice for people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, refugees, and immigrants. Color of Change, Honor the Earth, Neta, and Women’s March all received support from the sale of the new flavor.
When Amendment 4 was on the ballot in Florida, Ben & Jerry’s sent ice cream trucks to the streets to encourage people to take part in the second chances campaign. The company used the opportunity to teach people about how Amendment 4 would restore the eligibility to vote to Florida’s 1.4 million returning citizens who had previously been in jail. This was just one example of taking the message to the streets.
Ben & Jerry’s does more than creatively name flavors as a show of support. The company also partners with businesses who share similar values.
Greenwood spoke about Greyston Bakery, New York State’s first B Corporation and the supplier of brownies for Ben & Jerry’s flavors like “Half Baked” or “Chocolate Fudge Brownie.” Greyston Bakery is an advocate of the “open hiring model” that allows struggling individuals a start a professional life. The bakery doesn’t perform background checks or disqualify someone with a criminal record. Instead, the bakery offers the opportunity to become an apprentice for a short period of time, and if the individual has promise for holding a job, he or she is moved to the next step of the hiring process.
“We could buy a cheaper brownie, but the Greyston Bakery takes out people who are homeless on the street, gives them a place to live. They have accredited daycare if you have children and they get you to a place where you can be — have a positive impact to get your own life back on track. So that’s where we want to spend our money. We would rather pay more for those brownies,” Greenwood said.
Ben & Jerry’s is also a proponent of fair trade. The company wants to support the countries that provide the ice cream ingredients, and fair trade makes that possible. Fair trade sets the floor price for ingredients like sugar, bananas, and cocoa, and you can’t pay lower than a certain amount for each of the commodities. If companies like Ben & Jerry’s pay a premium, that money goes to help the communities. The money can be invested in schools, healthcare, equipment for the community, and more.
Ben & Jerry’s takes issues the company cares about and finds ways to support issues it believes in without focusing solely on profits.
“It’s not saying we want to take action so people will like us more or buy more ice cream,” Greenwood says. “It’s saying, we want to take these actions because we believe it’s the right thing for us to do.”
Sean Greenwood spoke in April 2019 in a plenary session at the annual strategic communications summit in Washington, D.C. See the speakers featured at StratCommWorld 2020 on June 1-2 at the National Press Club. Visit www.stratcomm.world for details about this unique global event that identifies strategies to enhance engagement and share methods to improve communications in corporations, the military, government agencies and nonprofits.
ABOUT THE summit speaker
Sean Greenwood is the Director of Public Relations & Communications for Ben & Jerry’s.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Grupp is Director of StratCommWorld, and Adjunct Instructor and Director of a Global Strategic Communication Master’s Degree Program in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.