Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream



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Ben & Jerry’s is a for-profit company based in Vermont that manufactures a variety of ice creams and other frozen desserts. The company supports left-progressive causes by partnering with left-of-center nonprofit organizations and advocating for left-wing social and environmental policy implementation. In 2019, Ben & Jerry’s was the best-selling ice cream of the year and brought in more than $680 million in sales, according to Statista. 1


Long-time friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened the first Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop in Burlington, Vermont in 1978 with an initial investment of $12,000. 2 By 1980, the company expanded and began packing its ice cream in pints for distribution, and in 1981, Ben & Jerry’s opened its first franchise in nearby Shelburne, Vermont. 3

In 1984, Ben & Jerry’s faced a distribution dilemma after Pillsbury Corporation bought Häagen-Dazs and threatened to stop selling Häagen-Dazs to distributors in Vermont if they continued selling Ben & Jerry’s, a competing product. The founders could not afford to take on a multi-million-dollar company instead launching a publicity campaign called “What’s the Doughboy Afraid of?” The campaign captured the media’s attention, and after facing mounting public pressure, Pillsbury backed down from pressuring distributors. The move permitted Ben & Jerry’s to continue expanding distribution across the state. 4

The following year, the company established the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation and committed an annual donation of 7.5% of pre-tax profits to the Foundation. 5

In 2000, Ben & Jerry’s became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Unilever, a multinational conglomerate. In an effort to preserve the Ben & Jerry’s product, brand, and left-of-center social mission under its new parent company, the company established an independent board of directors focused on preserving the integrity of the brand and its left-progressive values. 6


Ben & Jerry’s claims to be an activist company for “a broad set of progressive values”7 that include environmentalist and left-of-center social values. The company also touts left-progressive values that fall outside the scope of its business, including advocating for decreased military funding and social redistribution programs. 8

Each year, the company publishes a Social Environmental Assessment Report (SEAR) examining its progress on social and environmental goals from the previous year. In 2019, SEAR reported on the company’s activism related to criminal justice policy in the U.S., refugee resettlement and asylum in Europe, and LGBT and indigenous civil rights in Brazil. 9

The company’s activism dates back decades. In 1989, Ben & Jerry’s came out against the use of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), a hormone used in some dairy production,10 and recently stated that “rBGH is a step in the wrong direction towards a chemically-intensive, high-tech food system that has unacceptable social and environmental costs.” 11 The company joined a campaign with the Children’s Defense Fund, a left-of-center advocacy organization, and in 1999, the company launched a tour bus in the U.K. to raise money for Childline, an advice and counseling service. 12

Ben & Jerry’s occasionally releases limited edition ice cream flavors in support of left-of-center causes. For example, the company released the One Sweet Whirled™ flavor as part of an environmentalist campaign against climate change in 2002. 13

Ben & Jerry’s has also had a hand in civic activism by partnering with Rock the Vote, a left-leaning voter registration organization, ahead of the 2004 elections. In 2005, Ben & Jerry’s collaborated with controversial environmentalist giant Greenpeace and the Alaska Wilderness League to create a 900-pound Baked Alaska served in front of the U.S. Capitol building to protest drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Demonstrators returned to Washington, D.C. in 2007 when the company sent a group of people dressed in cow costumes to convey the company’s disapproval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s determination that consuming meat and milk from cloned animals was safe. 14

During the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in 2011, Ben & Jerry’s issued a statement in support of the movement and also showed up in New York City’s Zuccotti Park to scoop ice cream for protestors. 15

The company’s environmentalist activism continued when it supported legislation for mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms in food in 2013. 16 In 2015, Ben & Jerry’s released the Save Our Swirled flavor, which it claims inspired over 300,000 individuals to join the “global climate movement.” 17

Ben & Jerry’s released the Empower Mint flavor in 2016 to commemorate the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The following year, Ben & Jerry’s launched the One Sweet World flavor again and donated a portion of proceeds to the Poor People’s Campaign, a left-wing anti-poverty initiative. 18 In 2020, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ben & Jerry’s released a statement that called Floyd’s death “the result of inhumane police brutality that is perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy.” 19

Ahead of the 2020 elections, the company re-released Justice ReMix’d, an ice cream flavor and campaign to “inspire radical change.” In participating ice cream shops, customers could register to vote and check their voter registration status with the support of Ben & Jerry’s. Ben & Jerry’s supports making Election Day a national holiday, and closed all of its company-owned and operated facilities on Election Day in 2020 to encourage employees to vote. 20 Despite the organization’s left-progressive values, corporate leaders claim that Ben & Jerry’s is nonpartisan. 21


In 2020, James Ehlers, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Vermont, and the Organic Consumers Association sued Ben & Jerry’s for misleading product packaging related to the company’s claim that the milk used to make its ice cream came from “happy cows” as part of the company’s Caring Dairy program. The Caring Dairy program, created more than 30 years ago, partners with local farms in Vermont to establish environmentalist farming practices, set well-being standards for cows, and create improved working conditions for farmworkers. Litigants claimed that the “happy cows” label on the company’s ice cream packaging was misleading because not all of the milk that went into making the ice cream came from Caring Dairy partner farms. 22 The Organic Consumers Association criticized Ben & Jerry’s for the “cartoon-like pictures of happy cows romping in green pastures” on product packaging when the ice cream’s milk was not exclusively sourced from the Caring Dairy partner farms. 23


Ben & Jerry’s was founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield who met while attending middle school in Long Island, New York. The duo remained friends as they grew up and ended up sharing a residence after Greenfield graduated from Oberlin College and Cohen dropped out of college. Cohen and Greenfield, neither of whom had a formal business education, hoped to open a bagel shop but eventually turned to ice cream instead when they found that bagel equipment was too expensive. When they began making ice cream, Cohen’s limited sense of smell and taste inspired the pair’s strong ice cream flavors and emphasis on texture. 24 Greenfield cited informational business brochures from the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) as a resource the partners used to learn how to run a business. 25

Cohen and Greenfield have both been personally involved in left-progressive and left-of-center causes. In 2016, Cohen and Greenfield were both arrested as part of the “Democracy Awakening” protests in Washington, D.C. that closely aligned with the left-of-center Democracy Spring movement. 26 Cohen was also arrested in 2018 while demonstrating as a private citizen against bringing F-35 fighter planes to a military base in Vermont. 27

Cohen and Greenfield no longer manage the company’s day-to-day operations, and the company is currently led by CEO Matthew McCarthy. 28  McCarthy joined the company in 2018 and had previously worked at Unilever since 1997,29 most recently as the vice president of Unilever’s food division in North America. He considers himself to be an “aspiring activist” and believes that “business should be held accountable to setting very specific targets, specifically around dismantling white supremacy in and through our organizations.” 30 31

Anuradha Mittal leads the company’s board of directors. Mittal has sat on the board since 2008 and is the founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute, a left-progressive think tank based in California. 32


  1. Hadden, Joey. “Meet the Founders of Ben & Jerry’s, Who Started Their Company in a Converted Gas Station and Built It up into an Ice Cream Empire.” Business Insider. Business Insider, June 14, 2020.
  2. “Ben & Jerry’s History.” Accessed March 12, 2021.
  3. “Ben & Jerry’s History.” Accessed March 12, 2021.
  4. Harrison, J.D. “When We Were Small: Ben & Jerry’s.” The Washington Post. WP Company, May 14, 2014.
  5. “Ben & Jerry’s History.” Accessed March 12, 2021.
  6. “Ben & Jerry’s History.” Accessed March 12, 2021.
  7. Beard, Allison. “Why Ben & Jerry’s Speaks Out.” Harvard Business Review, January 13, 2021.
  8. “Our Values.” Accessed March 13, 2021.
  9. “2019 SEAR Report: Ben & Jerry’s.” Accessed March 13, 2021.
  10. “Ben & Jerry’s History.” Accessed March 12, 2021.
  11. “RBGH: Ben & Jerry’s.” Accessed March 14, 2021.
  12. “Ben & Jerry’s History.” Accessed March 12, 2021.
  13. “Ben & Jerry’s History.” Accessed March 12, 2021.
  14. “Ben & Jerry’s History.” Accessed March 12, 2021.
  15. “Ben & Jerry’s History.” Accessed March 12, 2021.
  16. “Ben & Jerry’s History.” Accessed March 12, 2021.
  17. “5 Ben & Jerry’s Flavors On a Mission.” Ben & Jerry’s, February 22, 2018.
  18. “5 Ben & Jerry’s Flavors On a Mission.” Ben & Jerry’s, February 22, 2018.
  19. “Silence Is NOT An Option.” Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. Accessed March 12, 2021.
  20. “Ben & Jerry’s Brings Justice Back.” PR Newswire, October 1, 2020.–jerrys-brings-justice-back-301143479.html.
  21. Beard, Allison. “Why Ben & Jerry’s Speaks Out.” Harvard Business Review, January 13, 2021.
  22. Chayes Wida, Erica. “Amid Animal Welfare Lawsuits, Ben & Jerry’s Axes ‘Happy Cows’ from Packaging.”, January 23, 2020. cows-t172302.
  23. Paul, Katherine. “Who Cares? Why We Sued Ben & Jerry’s.” Organic Consumers Association, July 12, 2018.
  24. Hadden, Joey. “Meet the Founders of Ben & Jerry’s, Who Started Their Company in a Converted Gas Station and Built It up into an Ice Cream Empire.” Business Insider. Business Insider, June 14, 2020.
  25. Harrison, J.D. “When We Were Small: Ben & Jerry’s.” The Washington Post. WP Company, May 14, 2014.
  26. Bowker, Brittany. “Ben & Jerry’s Issues Corporate Statement Expressing Outrage over the Death of George Floyd – The Boston Globe.” The Boston Globe, June 3, 2020.
  27. Hadden, Joey. “Meet the Founders of Ben & Jerry’s, Who Started Their Company in a Converted Gas Station and Built It up into an Ice Cream Empire.” Business Insider. Business Insider, June 14, 2020.
  28. “How Ben & Jerry’s Got Bought Out Without Selling Out.” Knowledge@Wharton. Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania., January 15, 2016.
  29. “Matthew McCarthy.” LinkedIn. Accessed March 12, 2021.
  30. “Matthew McCarthy.” Sustainable Brands. Accessed March 12, 2021.
  31. Ben and Jerry’s CEO Matthew McCarthy on Civil Unrest and Social Justice Donations. CNBC. CNBC, 2020.
  32. “How We’re Structured: Ben & Jerry’s.” Accessed March 12, 2021.

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Daryn Dodson
    Board Member
  2. Annie Leonard
    Board Member
  3. Ben Cohen
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