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Ben & Jerry's Shouldn't Be
Corporate Phish Food, Investors Say

By Ross Sneyd   Associated Press
MONTPELIER, Vt. — Will Ben & Jerry's next flavor be Capitalist Crunch? Not if a group of "socially responsible" investors can help it.

Worried that the hippie, civic-minded ice cream maker that gave the world Wavy Gravy and Cherry Garcia may soon fall into big-time corporate hands, the group is stitching together a rival bid against Unilever NV, an Anglo-Dutch food conglomerate, and Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Inc.

The investors, who are scattered across the country, confirmed only that they are working on a deal.

"We're in the middle of forming an offer and we're all sworn to hold this in confidence," said Judith Wicks, owner of the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia and a prominent member of the Social Venture Network, a San Francisco "socially responsible" investment group.

Dreyer's, based in Oakland, Calif., issued a statement Friday saying it would not court Ben & Jerry's — or any other company — without being welcomed. It did not confirm it was actively trying to take over the Vermont-based company.

Ben & Jerry's merely confirmed that the Social Venture Network was interested.

Ben & Jerry's announced in December that companies it did not identify were interested in taking it over. That raised fears that the company might sell out to corporate suits who will abandon the Ben & Jerry philosophy of doing good while doing good business.

Ben & Jerry's donates 7.5 percent of its pretax profits to charity and maintains a so-called double bottom line dedicated to earning a profit and promoting social good. That includes buying milk from small family farms and its nuts from sustainable farms in the South American rain forests.

Ben Cohen, the ex-hippie who founded the company with boyhood friend Jerry Greenfield, told the Wall Street Journal there is logic behind a socially responsible group trying to keep his company independent.

"Quirky brands don't usually do well as part of large conglomerates," Cohen said. "I'm delighted there's an investor group trying to find a way to keep the company independent."

The group of investors includes Robert E. Barton, chief executive of Catalyst Financial Group Inc., a Brookfield investment bank that focuses on environmental companies.

"If you and I think Ben & Jerry's has sold out and we're disillusioned, then are we going to continue to be loyal to them or are we going to buy from the next little micro ice cream company?" Barton said. "I would probably go to the next micro ice cream company."

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