A protest movement tries to make sure that Cherry Garcia is never owned by Nestli.
Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc., the Vermont ice cream company with a social conscience, is having a hard time doing well while doing good. So with the company’s stock price sagging, multinational ice-cream manufacturers are trying to scoop up the struggling firm.
On Dec. 2 the company announced that it had received acquisition offers from four firms: Unilever NV, Nestli, Diageo of Britain (makers of arch rival Häagen-Dazs) and Italy’s Roncadin. Ben and Jerry’s stock climbed 8 points on the news.
A grassroots movement against the proposed sale, however, formed quickly after the announcement, and it’s clear that many Vermonters don’t want to see Ben & Jerry’s sold.
On Monday afternoon, about 100 demonstrators gathered in Burlington, handing over ice cream lids with the words “Don’t Sell Us Out” to the company’s board of directors. Vermont government officials, well aware of Ben & Jerry’s large tourist draw and economic boon to local farmers, said that they were “very concerned” about the possibility of an acquisition by a multinational.
“This company has really come to symbolize Vermont to the country and to the world,” Vermont Gov. Howard Dean told Reuters. “It would be a shame if it were sucked into the corporate homogenization that’s taking over the planet.”
Ben & Jerry’s surged to popularity in part on the marketing of its socially responsible, countercultural approach to business. It named ice cream after ’60s icons like Jerry Garcia and Wavy Gravy, and recruited a CEO through an essay contest. It is probably the only company that holds its annual shareholders meeting at a live outdoor concert, where investors can step up to the microphone and give opinions and advice on the company’s future.
The executive director of Vermont’s Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), Dave Rapaport, said the company has a business model that proves companies can be successful and care about local communities. “We want a local economy. It’s been historically a local economy in this state but the entry of a lot of large corporations coming in here is dominating the characteristics that make Vermont unique,” Rapaport said.
Vermont could very well suffer from a Ben & Jerry buyout. State officials fear it will result in hundreds of lost jobs. Plus, Ben & Jerry’s buys all its milk from Vermont dairy farmers, and it pays more than most premium ice cream manufacturers. The company also donates 7.5 percent of its pre-tax earnings to Vermont charities.
Do-gooders like the company for other reasons. Ben & Jerry’s won’t buy milk, for instance, from dairy farmers who inject rBGH, the infamous Bovine Growth Hormone produced by agribusiness giant, Monsanto. The company makes its brownies in a New York factory that only employs “disenfranchised people,” according to VPIRG, who’ve been out of work, recently off welfare or just out of prison. And in San Francisco Ben and Jerry’s teamed up with a local job training agency to hire at-risk teenagers to work in its local stores and its 3-Com Park franchise.
And yet Ben & Jerry’s is a public company whose stock is traded on NASDAQ, and lately it seems that the firm’s brand of benign capitalism isn’t yielding the return its investors expect.
Public companies are required by law to consider all reasonable offers put before them by outside competitors. The four successful corporations are offering nearly double the share-price value, so the board of directors must take the offer to the shareholders.
Founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, along with a shareholder named Jeff Furman, hold 47 percent of the voting shares and are opposed to a buy out. On Monday, Cohen told Vermont public radio that he wants to keep the company local. But they are facing pressure from other shareholders, who want to take the money and run, nearly doubling their investment.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, an aggressive 23-year-old named Garret LoPorto created a Web site last week to convince Ben & Jerry’s fans to buy shares in the company, and write to the board of directors. The site has over 700 posts urging Cohen and Greenfield not to sell. LoPorto said he bought some shares this week, but not enough to cover the $225 million being bid for the coveted brand name.
“When I heard about this I thought it was totally against everything Ben Cohen says he is. It doesn’t seem like selling his business to a global corporation is something he’d go for,” said LoPorto. “It’s totally contrary to what Ben & Jerry’s is.”
Visitors to the Save Ben & Jerry’s site are asked to sign a petition against what he calls the “liquidation” of the 21-year-old-company.
Joseph Henry, a shareholder from Iowa, said if globalization gobbles up Ben & Jerry’s, he’ll stop buying the brand. Henry works for Iowans for Sensible Priorities in Des Moines, where he has had opportunities to talk about socially responsible capitalism with Ben Cohen. “Why is Ben & Jerry’s so famous? People are turned on by what they do. Their success is driven by people who care about society and there are a lot of people out there who connect with companies like this,” he said.
“As a shareholder I say no to any sale. I’ve seem small industry get bought out by large competitors here in Iowa. They soon move the plants out of state,” said Henry. “I want the company to stay as it is.” But Henry, with 100 shares of Ben & Jerry’s stock, doesn’t have voting rights.
Joan Johnson of Philadelphia writes on the Save Ben & Jerry’s Web site: “Please don’t let a truly unique institution become just a cog in some monolithic wheel. Let’s continue to have Cherry Garcia and social conscience together in one entity!”
More Related Stories
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
- 80-year-old becomes oldest to climb Mount Everest
- Before FBI shooting man implicated self, Tsarnaev in triple murder
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- UK emergency committee convenes after attack
- Brave scout leader tried to reason with London attackers
- If Alex Pareene were a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11