Selling ‘a lick and a promise’

Jenn Press

“An Afternoon of Social Responsibility, Radical Business Philosophy, and free dessert for all” was the premise for guest speakers Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. Last Sunday, a packed audience gathered in Alumni Hall to hear ice cream experts Cohen and Greenfield speake in an event sponsored by the Albert Schweitzer celebration.
Childhood friends from Long Island, Cohen and Greenfield founded Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc., turning a storefront venture into a $200 million, publicly held ice cream empire. A model for American business success, Quinnipiac University honored them with the president’s award for social justice and concern for the environment.
Director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute David Ives said Quinnipiac’s affiliation with the institute puts the university on the map nationally and internationally. The main goal of the institute is to incorporate values into the university.
Greenfield said that their purpose for lecturing at Quinnipiac was to speak about philosophy and campaign true majority.
“It is crucial for college students to be socially active,” said Greenfield.
Ben & Jerry’s promotes values and encourages leadership for non-profit organizations.
“We sell ice cream, low-fat ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and novelties ‘with a lick and a promise,'” said Greenfield.
He also mentioned that the company provides innovative flavors created by the research and development department.
The duo was recognized for fostering their company’s commitment to social responsibility by the Council on Economic Priorities, which awarded them the Corporate Giving Award in 1988.
Greenfield and Cohen donated seven and a half percent of their pre-tax profits to nonprofit organizations through the Ben & Jerry’s foundation. That year, the U.S. Small Business Administration named them U.S. Small Business Persons of the Year in a White House ceremony hosted by President Ronald Reagan. They also received the James Beard Humanitarians of the Year award in 1993 and the Peace Museum’s Community Peacemakers of the Year award in 1997.
Greenfield and Cohen’s bestseller, “Ben & Jerry’s Double-Dip: Lead with Your Values and Make Money, Too,” is a guide that instills the promised and pitfalls of “values-led” business. Greenfield said it is an inspirational reality about the growing international influence of the ‘mission-driven’ corporation.
Cohen and Greenfield’s high morals and heartfelt goals correspond with the mission of the Albert Schweitzer Institute and Quinnipiac University.
“We can make a difference right here,” said Kathleen McCourt, senior vice president for Academic Affairs. “It is not necessary to relocate to other continents to make a difference.”
Quinnipiac University’s involvement with the Albert Schweitzer Institute stemmed from President John L. Lahey’s goal towards student involvement in the world. The Albert Schweitzer Institute’s mission is to introduce Dr. Schweitzer’s philosophy of Reverence for Life to a broad audience.
Dr. Schweitzer said, “The purpose of life is to serve and to show compassion in the will to help others.”
Spreading knowledge of a civil and ethical human society is a vital goal in addition to respect, responsibility, compassion and service. Dr. Schweitzer was a humanitarian who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.
Ben & Jerry’s began with their first out of state franchise, the Scoop Shop.
Cohen and Greenfield took a correspondence course at Penn State University and decided to sell ice cream in Burlington, Vt., where there was no risk for competition due to the cold weather. The duo did not have any experience so they copied a pizza parlor’s business plan to get approval from the bank.
Cohen and Greenfield started their business in a gas station, right off Main Street in Burlington, where they created ice cream with used machinery and scooped it themselves.
Free movies were shown outside for their customers’ enjoyment, and during the winter months they promoted their ice cream by advertising a penny off for each degree in decreasing temperature.
Restaurants also bought Ben & Jerry’s ice cream during the cold months, helping the company make enough profits to last for another year.
The first out of state franchise was the Scoop Shop, where Cohen and Greenfield made ice cream with vintage equipment, producing 50 gallons on a good day. They were not able to meet everyone’s needs and did not have enough room to store ingredients.
To make larger profits, Cohen and Greenfield made the community part of the business. Numerous families became owners which led to the establishment of the Ben & Jerry foundation.
Business is essentially a machine for making money, but Cohen and Greenfield’s equation for business was that organized human energy plus money equals power.
Eventually, they went on the road, transporting ice cream in home made Styrofoam containers in a station wagon, until they graduated to an ice cream truck that Cohen drove around Vermont. The deliveries sparked a more economical idea that led to packaged Ben & Jerry’s ice cream sold to grocery stores.
Ice-cream distributors in Boston and Connecticut bought their ice cream, causing problems with Pillsbury.
Cohen and Greenfield started the “What’s the dough boy afraid of?” campaign and advertised with arial banners over sports stadiums and on public transportation.
Eventually, the story circulated throughout the media and Pillsbury backed down. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was bought again and continued to soar.
Ben & Jerry’s was sold a few years ago to a much larger company that owns products like Dove, Wishbone and Ragu.
“The company must have a great sense of humor,” Greenfield said. “On the same day they bought our company, they also bought Slimfast.”
Cohen and Greenfield said they are still employed, but do not do as much work as the job originally required.
Ben and Jerry’s success is not only measured by money, but also by how they can give back to the community.
“We’re all interconnected,” said Greenfield.
“I think it’s all about values,” said Cohen. “Spiritual values. That’s what’s most important.”
Even though the Bible, not the business plan, preaches spirituality and human kindness, Cohen said he feels it is important to live your life in accordance with your values.
“Live your life today, not in the future,” he said.
Out of their 200 franchised shops, twelve are partner shops for social service agents. The money goes to job training and reaches out to those in need.
Six to eight pints of Ben & Jerry’s new flavors are typically released in food stores each year, generally in the spring.
Cohen said the business is a process of innovation, trying new things and learning from instances with poor outcomes. Cohen shared that many new flavors do not see the light of day.
Cohen said that his favorite flavor is “Cherry Garcia” and Greenfield said his “Half-Baked”.
At the conclusion of the lecture, free individual servings of Ben& Jerry’s ice scream were provided on the Quad. Albert Schweitzer T-shirts were given to those who donated a canned good, stuffed animal or children’s book.
A service learning fair followed the lecture to motivate volunteerism in the Hamden community.