The Ben & Jerry's Story

Posted on March 17, 2012 by Fraser Doherty


I love ice cream.  I think coming from Scotland where ice cream was a special treat on the handful of sunny days throughout the year, it has a special place in my heart.  It reminds me of sunny days by the beach, building sandcastles and having fun.

For me, Ben & Jerry’s have been able to capture that fun feeling in their brand in a way that no other ice cream brand does.  Their products are funny, maybe ridiculous; ‘Phish Food’ with marshmallow, chocolate fish and toffee sauce.  They have a lot of fun in naming their products, promoting them and their packaging is great fun to read.

What started out in a converted petrol station in Vermont in 1987, has grown into one of the biggest ice cream brands in the world, ultimately being bought by the Unilever conglomerate in 2000 for over $300m.

Ben & Jerry’s is a company that has inspired some of my own ideas and the approach that I have taken in business over the past few years.  Mostly because they’ve been able to create a great brand, fun products and created a business that stands out.

Packaging as protest

I think what inspires me most about the Ben & Jerry’s story is the approach that they have taken towards doing good for society and the environment.  It’s a philosophy that, for them, goes hand in hand with building a commercially successful business.  For instance, they used the lids of their ice cream tubs to protest the amount that the US government spends on war, which dwarfs its spending on education and healthcare.  Ben & Jerry’s also championed the cause of gay marriage with a special ‘Hubby Hubby’ flavor.

Socially conscious sourcing

Using their packaging to protest about issues they feel strongly about is a great idea but probably the single biggest way that the company has been able to impact on the world has been by buying its ingredients from companies that share its values.  An example is the Grayston bakery, which makes brownie chunks for them.  Started by a ‘Jewish-Buddhist-former-nuclear-physicist-monk’ called Bernie Glassman, the bakery employs economically disenfranchised people.  They are people who otherwise wouldn’t have a lot of hope finding jobs and earning a living.

Ben & Jerry’s also sources its Brazil nuts from the indigenous communities of the Amazon rainforest, through a company called Community Products Inc.  The idea behind their business is to try to create an economic reason for the rainforest to exist and also to generate funds for the indigenous people to hopefully fight off the loggers who are moving in to destroy their way of life.  

By creating a market for ethical and socially conscious products, Ben & Jerry’s has been able to contribute to making a lot of people’s lives better.  The political messages they print on the lids of their tubs don’t have a lot to do with ice cream but by getting a message they care about out to millions of people, they might just be able to help create a bit of a stir.  Somewhere along the line, all of these ideas might just help make a change.

This is one of my articles on starting your business, from my column on HotFrog.  You can see them all here.

* Buy "Ben & Jerry's Double Dip" Book Here. *

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