Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 13th 2013 Contents BG4 | COVER STORY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt JUNE 2013 • WEEK TWO
Ben & Jerry s ice-cream co-founder Ben Cohen
said the company rose to the US$326 million
value at the time Unilever acquired it in 2001,
thanks entirely to its innovative business phi-
losophy of maintaining a double bottom line: to
support the communities in which it operates and to make
During an interview with the Business Guardian at the
Hilton Trinidad, St Ann s, on Monday evening, Cohen showed
unflinching conviction that Ben & Jerry s became the inter-
national brand it is today thanks to the "halo effect" created
from the philanthropic way it did business, just as much as
the taste of the ice-cream.
Cohen said: "When we first opened, we opened just as one
individual home made ice-cream shop, and we didn t have
any plans of becoming anything more than that. At the very
beginning when we opened up, we said that we don t want
to be a typical business. We d like to be a business that cares
more about the local community. We were holding community
celebrations and giving away a bunch of ice-cream, but we
didn t really develop our philosophy until seven years later,
and as the business grew, we began to feel the business is
essentially a machine for making money that we wanted to
be of as much service to the community as possible.
"What we needed to do was give away as much of our
profits as possible. We ended up giving away a very high per-
centage of our profits, 7.5 per cent of pre-tax profits. You
know the normal corporate donation is maybe about one per
cent. We were giving away a lot more and we had become
a public company."
He said that as "there are just so many overwhelming unmet
human needs, for a business to just give away money, isn t
enough, and we were wondering was there something else we
could do, and we figured out that the thing that we could do
more was to integrate social concerns into day-to-day business
activities, and so we started doing business with a bank that
was based in a decaying urban area whose purpose was to
attract deposits from outside the area, to use it to rebuild that
Cohen gave other examples of how Ben & Jerry s "started
to invest in low-income housing, tax credits," and sourcing
its ingredients "fair traded, so that the smaller farmers get
paid a higher price."
For a while, Ben & Jerry s was buying Brazil nuts from the
rainforest in an effort to help the rainforest in Brazil remain
a living rainforest, Cohen said.
"What we found at Ben & Jerry s is that there s a spiritual
aspect to business, just as there is to the lives of individuals.
When you give, you receive. As you help others, you re helped
in return. As your business supports the community, the com-
munity supports your business."
"We had no idea that was going to be so successful, that
was going to be so profitable, but it was," he said. "The norm
is that businesses say that it is not possible for them to help
to alleviate social problems. It s not possible for them to
integrate social concerns into how they do business, so that
they can profit at the same time. We found that that s just
not true. We found that it is possible to do that, and we found
lots of different ways to integrate meeting social needs into
our day-to-day business operations."
Sourcing ingredients and helping
Cohen said it is about "a lot more than just giving away
some money. It s about sourcing our ingredients in such a
way that we help to address social problems. One example is
that our flavour, chocolate fudge brownie, utilises brownies
that are made by a non-profit bakery owned by a religious
institution in an inner city area whose purpose is to provide
job training to formerly unemployable people: ex-drug addicts,
or ex-convicts or formerly homeless people, and so, just by
buying brownies from that bakery, we re helping to solve that
He said Ben & Jerry s "innovated a two-part bottom line,
so that it measures its benefit to the community, and its impact
on the community, positive and negative; and it measures how
much money it makes. If we fail at either one of those, we
have failed our mandate," he said.
There are approximately 300 Ben & Jerry s ice cream scoop
shops around the world, but mainly in the continental United
States, he said. Some shops are franchised, but most belong
wholly to Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch global consumer goods
company that has an operation in T&T.
Asked if there might be a Ben & Jerry s ice-cream scoop
shop opening soon in T&T, he said that would be the decision
of Unilever which bought out Ben & Jerry s on the stock
market. "We were a publicly-held company and Unilever
bought all the stock, so when that happened, I got paid a
bunch of money," he said.
The British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever bought the Amer-
ican Vermont-based, ice-cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry s
in 2001 for US$326 million.
Money and politics
The company has started taking some political stands, too,
he said. One stand it has taken is on "getting money out of
politics," which is about detaching politics from money, replacing
the campaign financing model at the hands of which ordinary
Later in the interview, when asked if he might ever go back
into business now that he plays no executive role at Ben &
Jerry s, Cohen said he is dedicating himself to this struggle.
"Now, I m focused on a campaign to get money out of
politics. I m going to focus all my energy on addressing what
I think is the root cause of most of the problems in the United
States; and, of course, if there are problems in the United
States, they would be causing problems in the rest of the world
Another political stand Ben & Jerry s is taking is to get
politicians to "shift money out of nuclear weapons and into
Ben & Jerry's co-founder explains how to:
Double the bottom line
Continued on page 5
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