As Artisanal Ice Cream Makers Move Onto Ben & Jerry’s Turf, New CEO Ramps Up CSR To Differentiate The Brand

As Artisanal Ice Cream Makers Move Onto Ben & Jerry’s Turf, New CEO Ramps Up CSR To Differentiate The Brand
Brand Activation & Immersion

The veteran Unilever executive has been tasked with reinventing both the company's product offerings and social initiatives, aiming to create a definitive platform for sustainability and maintain a competitive position in the marketplace

Kim Windyka
  • 26 september 2018

Ben & Jerry’s has a new CEO—and that’s not the only thing that’s changing for the brand. The beloved and quirky ice cream company recently announced the appointment of Matthew McCarthy, who has worked for parent company Unilever for more than two decades, to the role of Chief Executive Officer. With McCarthy’s hire comes a renewed focus on activism and corporate social responsibility (CSR), as well as expanded product offerings that include vegan and low-calorie ice creams.

While Ben & Jerry’s has long been viewed as a brand that espouses peace, love and equality, the brand has started a more definitive foray into CSR over the past few years. During the 2016 election, it introduced a brand new limited-batch flavor called “Empower Mint” that was created to encourage consumers to vote. To compete with the growing popularity of non-dairy and vegan brands like Halo Top and So Delicious, the company has also introduced non-dairy pints of its popular flavors like Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia that are made with almond milk and are certified vegan by Vegan Action.

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Industry consultant and former Safeway executive Bob Shelton believes that, “From a retailer’s perspective, the renewed social activism effort by Ben and Jerry’s would be welcome, as it would probably increase their brand recognition. Generally, that’s good for retailers in a high growth category like Ice Cream/Frozen Novelties if it translated to higher category sales—especially for a power brand like Ben and Jerry’s.” However, he warns that the brand needs to be thoughtful and deliberate about the topics it supports. “The only caution would be to stay away from the more polarizing social issues that can cause potential boycotts. Retailers will quickly shy away from negative press,” he notes.

Eddie Yoon, growth strategist and author of Superconsumers, adds that it’s possible for the brand to continue to succeed in both sales and in the area of social activism. “Many businesses have yet still to embrace or realize that business for good and good business can both be true, particularly in a world where consumers increasingly have super powers enabled by more choices and word of mouth megaphones in social media and reviews,” he explains. “What remains to be seen is if the new CEO will be able to take it to the next level.”

If McCarthy’s past experience is any indication, he’s up to the challenge. He has focused on social responsibility efforts for a number of Unilever brands, including Hellmann’s mayonnaise, which was one of the first in its category to use cage-free eggs. In addition, he created a completely organic snack brand called Growing Roots that places an emphasis on urban farming in communities that are lacking resources.

Yoon poses an important question: “Can making the world a better place be more than just a brand strategy, but a breakthrough product and business model innovation, too?” One way to achieve this, he says, is to partner with top dairy farmers like Maple Hill Creamery, which produces completely grass-fed and organic products. This way, Ben & Jerry’s would be able to “subscriptionize” the experience of buying ice cream, while aligning with like-minded companies to create a definitive platform for sustainability and maintain a competitive position in the marketplace.

Shelton believes that the brand’s next move not only has the potential to affect consumer attitudes, but also the attitude of retailers as well. “Because Ben and Jerry’s is the third-largest player in the category behind private label and Unilever’s other brand, Breyer’s, retailers will look to them to provide innovation and marketing funding leadership,” he says.

Both experts agree that Ben & Jerry’s is in a powerful and advantageous position, and that with a new CEO at its helm, it’s the perfect time to continue innovating and taking calculated risks. As Yoon points out, “All businesses are on a spectrum of missionary to mercenary. Ben & Jerry’s is out in front, but I hope it creates a new category of socially good, outstanding ice cream—rather than just rest on its laurels.”

Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s has a new CEO—and that’s not the only thing that’s changing for the brand. The beloved and quirky ice cream company recently announced the appointment of Matthew McCarthy, who has worked for parent company Unilever for more than two decades, to the role of Chief Executive Officer. With McCarthy’s hire comes a renewed focus on activism and corporate social responsibility (CSR), as well as expanded product offerings that include vegan and low-calorie ice creams.

+activism
+ben & jerry’s
+brand activation & immersion
+consumer goods
+CSR
+Food
+Grocery
+ice cream
+packaging & product engagement
+social responsibility
+vegan

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