A dedication to environmental and social justice is just one of the unique elements that defines Ben & Jerry’s unmistakable culture.
On a warm day in September 2014, more than 400,000 demonstrators assembled in New York City for the Peoples Climate March to call for climate action. Among the crowd was Eric Thomas, the Franchise Development Manager for Ben & Jerry’s. He was joined by dozens of the brand’s employees along with some scoop shop owners, and they all stood side by side to promote a cause each of them believed in.
It was a very powerful moment, Thomas says, and it helped to reaffirm the very values that Ben & Jerry’s was founded on.
Stories like that aren’t uncommon for Ben & Jerry’s growing network of franchisees. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield founded this gourmet ice creamery in 1978, and from the very beginning, they were pushing the boundaries of conventional business. Shortly after setting up shop in Burlington, they quickly devised a three-part mission statement: to make the world’s best ice cream, to run a financially successful company and to make the world a better place.
Over the years, the brand went to great lengths to fulfill this mission. They used only milk that did not contain artificial growth hormones. They went to court for the right to label their ice cream hormone-free. They developed chemical-free containers. They made fair-trade organic ingredients a priority. They offered even their lowest-paid workers more than twice the national minimum wage. And they reduced garbage output. Most recently, Ben & Jerry’s became a B Corporation, a voluntary certification by a nonprofit group called B Lab designating companies that uphold high social and environmental standards.
That dedication to environmental and social justice is just one of the unique elements that defines Ben & Jerry’s unmistakable culture. And it’s become an important part in the brand’s franchise development process, too.
“Culture is very important for us at Ben & Jerry’s. We’re a lifestyle franchise, and we look for franchisees who connect with our missions and are passionate about our values. We want them to have a genuine desire to change the world,” Thomas said. “It’s a different sort of franchisee who becomes a Ben & Jerry’s owner. It’s our priority to make sure we find that perfect match and to find the best brand ambassadors.”
From as early as the discovery phase, Ben & Jerry’s starts talking about the causes they collectively believe in. Having that connection is crucial, and according to Thomas, it’s what makes the brand stronger. While the business largely hinges on the pints sold in grocery store freezers throughout the country, the scoop shops are where the brand has the opportunity to truly broadcast who they are.
“Every single one of our local owners serves as a beacon of all things Ben & Jerry’s. And if our franchisees are proponents of our values, they’ll be stronger owners and operators. We want to be open and transparent about who we are. We’re an activist brand, which is unique in this line of business. And we work hard to convey that during the discovery process,” Thomas added. “That’s why our key strategy doesn’t revolve around certain numbers or milestones—instead, it’s about our people.”
But beyond finding the right ambassadors to continue spreading Ben & Jerry’s mission, it’s important that franchisees understand the smaller-scale impact that they can have on their local communities, too.
“Franchising—especially with a brand like Ben & Jerry’s—can be so rewarding. They have the ability to make a tremendous impact on their communities and on the lives of the youth who come to work for them,” Thomas said. “We have a lot of young people working for our scoop shops. We’re giving them a chance to get that first work experience. But what we really love is that we have the chance to influence so many young people and show them how business can be done differently and ethically.”
In the years ahead, Ben & Jerry’s will continue to thrive in franchising thanks to its activism-infused business beliefs, one pint of Chunky Monkey at a time. And in a sea of corporate chains all struggling to find their voice and their unique identity, that strong Ben & Jerry’s core has not only helped the brand grow—but it’s helped them grow with the right people.
“You really can change the world through ice cream. Many good moments happen at Ben & Jerry’s, and this is the chance for entrepreneurs to become part of a movement that’s so much larger than themselves,” Thomas said. “That’s what’s differentiated our brand from day one, and it’s what will continue to differentiate us in the decades to come.”