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"
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
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
"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