Ben & Jerry’s: leading with values, and making money too

Many brands have hit the headlines recently for campaigning on social issues. Examples include Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, the product Red brand raising money for AIDS in Africa and the many retailers (Tesco, Walmart et al) trying to jump on the "Green is good" bandwagon.

But seeing an advert for the Fairtrade vanilla ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s reminded me just how far ahead they are in this area (you can visit the site and see photo albums like the ones of the right showing their work in India and Paraguay). They might not get as much press coverage as some of these other brands who are the new kids on the block, but they’ve been at it for 20 years and are much more advanced in their approach.

The key thing they Ben & Jerry’s do differently is to have a 3-part mission that integrates social, profit and product  dimensions. So, social and environmental campaigning is not a bolt-on attempt at "green-washing" consumers. Its not about donating a % of profit to charity (though they do this as well). No, the social mission is woven into the very fabric of their business, as captured in the sub-title of the founders’ book, Double Dip: "Lead with your values and make money too".


One story I heard when I toured their factory in Vermont a few years ago illustrates the challenges of this approach. The brownies in their ice cream were made by kids working for a a charity in the Bronx. Great for the social mission: sell more ice cream and more money goes to helping keep these kids off the street. However, when the first lot of brownies arrived at the factory, they were frozen together in a huge lump. Not so great for the product and profit missions. It took real work to get the supplier to fix this issue and get the quality right.

Integrating a social dimension into your business is much harder than just sponsoring a charity. But its also harder to copy and so more differentiating. For example, it took Chiquita bananas many years to get 100% of its product certified by The Rainforest Alliance, but this has given them a real point of difference versus own-label.

A neat summary of what Ben & Jerry’s do is "Fast Moving Sustainable Goods", or FMSG for short, a term coined by Innocent Smoothies (thanks to Russel for this).

5-minute workout: if our thinking about having a social mission for your brand, how could you integrate this into the way you run your business rather than just bolting it on? For example, how could you re-work your sourcing so it makes a positive contribution to society?