Ben and Jerry feeds ice ceam to Occupy Wall Street, Unilever mumBen & Jerry's fed 600 protesters ice cream at Occupy Wall Street's home base in New York's Zuccotti Park on Tuesday. The Vermont-based ice cream vendor is the first large company to have declared public support of the movement, expressing its "deepest admiration" for the protesters in a statement released last weekend via the company's website.

At the protest's Food Committee headquarters in the center of Zuccotti park, hungry protesters line up to be served by volunteers in aprons, who rush around to keep donated food plentifully stocked on long buffet tables. On Tuesday afternoon, the free ice cream--served with little fanfare and no corporate logos-- was devoured within hours.

But that evening, protesters expressed mixed feelings about corporations latching onto their cause. Some, like Jules Caldarera, a 20-year-old student from New Mexico, were excited to see support from a high-profile company like Ben & Jerry's. Many didn't realize that the ice cream was from Ben & Jerry's. Others found it strange that any company would support an anti-corporate protest.

"It's problematic," says Donal Foreman, a 26-year-old from Ireland. Foreman has been attending the protests since their launch but wasn't there to eat any of the free treats during the day on Tuesday. "Ben & Jerry's is co-opting the movement."

Regardless, the brand has aligned itself with Occupy Wall Street's values. In its statement, Ben & Jerry's independent board of directors decries "the inequity that exists between classes in our country," as well as the fact that "corporations are permitted to spend unlimited resources to influence elections while stockpiling a trillion dollars rather than hiring people."

"Ben and Jerry's is a corporate entity." Foreman points out. "Their primary interest is profit and giving away ice cream doesn't change or threaten that."

"Still, it's hard to say no to free ice cream," he adds.

Corporate Owner Mute

Unilever (UN)(UL), the parent company of Ben and Jerry's (as well as Lipton, Dove and Axe, among other brands) might very well agree with Foreman. A Unilever spokesperson told DailyFinance, "Unilever maintains a neutral position with regard to social movements and will make no public statements about this particular campaign."

Unilever is a publicly traded, multinational conglomerate with 167,000 employees and operating profits of $6.3 billion in 2010. It donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobbying groups each year ($750,000 in 2010, according to statements filed to Congress), in support of such causes as the free trade of sugar -- a key ingredient in ice cream.

Ben & Jerry's is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Unilever, which is responsible for all business decisions, and appoints its own independent board of directors. All of Ben & Jerry's profits go to Unilever. Ben & Jerry's did not respond to requests for comment.

Crunchy Brand, Competitive World
Ever since Ben & Jerry's was bought by Unilever for $326 million in 2000, the ice-cream maker has struggled to maintain its crunchy image amid competitive business practices.

Founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (who tried to prevent the buyout) no longer hold management positions, remaining involved solely as brand ambassadors. Executive salaries -- once capped at seven times the salary of the lowest paid employee -- are now undisclosed. And the company's 2009 commitment to fair trade ingredients proved a struggle to implement under Unilever's oversight, as the founders revealed to the Financial Times.

Ultimately, Unilever OK'd fair trade for Ben & Jerry's, deciding that "a more sustainable brand is often a more desirable brand," a spokesman told The New York Times later that year. The brand is now in the process of sourcing fair trade ingredients for all its U.S. products, a project it hopes to have completed by 2013.

Protest vs. Profit

Ben & Jerry's progressive and independent image remains essential to its success as a brand, says Tom Zara, the Global Practice Leader of Corporate Citizenship at Interbrand.

"Ben & Jerry's is about celebrating individuality, self expression, and the political process in its good, bad, and ugly forms ... It's very much in its DNA to participate in what is a modern version of Woodstock," he explains.

Occupy Wall Street is only the company's most recent cause. Ben & Jerry's has released flavors like "Something's Fishy," in protest of FDA approval of genetically engineered salmon, and "Yes, Pecan!", after Barack Obama's election. It has also moved to use cage-free eggs in its ice cream, and pays workers at its Vermont plant a "living wage" significantly above the state minimum.

But rarely have Ben & Jerry's activist endorsements directly conflicted with the practices of its parent company. While the nebulous demands of Occupy Wall Street make it hard to define specific points of disagreement, the lobbying money spent by Unilever seems inconsistent with the message posted on Ben & Jerry's website Saturday.

"Unilever respects the unique social mission of Ben & Jerry's and the independence of its board in speaking out on social issues," the Unilever spokesperson told DailyFinance.

According to Zara, allowing Ben & Jerry autonomy in branding itself as anti-establishment and associating with the protest is ultimately in Unilever's interest. "While as the owner [Unilever] has the license to do anything it wants with Ben & Jerry's ... the unique brand is a quantifiable contribution to the bottom line," he says. "The asset they bought would diminish in value if they were to change it."

In other words, endorsements of protests can turn into profit.

Still, some Occupiers defend their favorite ice cream brand, maintaining that its interest in the protest is genuine despite possible benefit to Unilever.

For Jules Caldarera, the protester from New Mexico, Ben & Jerry's giveaway reminded her of its pre-corporate past. "I don't think it's a marketing scheme," she says. "Ben & Jerry's cares about the cause and are donating real support in the form of food."

"They're not like the Democratic party," she added.

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nreds2

I will never eat anymore Ben and Jerry's ice cream since I found out they support Mumia Abu Jamal. That man is a Cold Blooded Cop Killer, who shot Daniel Faulkner at point Blank in the head and said "I hope That Pig Dies". He has been on Death row since the 80's and succeeded in having his death sentence communted to a Life sentence. Anybody who supports someone like that, is an Empty Headed Liberal Idiot, much like the Occupy People are.

December 31 2011 at 5:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert Morgan

I've had Ben & Jerry's once or twice but usually shy away from their product for several reasons:
1) they charge outrageous prices for an
2) often inferior product when compared to other ice creams which are much lower priced
3) I'm dead set opposed to 'brands that spawn a culture'. (Apple is another example of this)

Personally it's simple for me as a capitalist: I can buy a better tasting product (in my opinion) for a lower price and, biggest of all, avoid the gimmickry that comes with their 'far out' flavors. I mean, how can I make a good chocolate milkshake with all kinds of extra crap mixed into the ice cream.
I guess I'm just an old 28 year old stick in the mud.

October 20 2011 at 11:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robert Morgan's comment
boiledbeef

I agree with #3. Besides, Unilever was one of the funders to prevent the labeling of GMO foods in CA.

November 16 2012 at 6:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Group

Wel!l Well! Well! the owners of Ben and Jerrys support another cause. NEVER FORGET that Ben Cohen supports and donated money to a post conviction defense fund for a convicted COP KILLER!!! Yes OVERWHELMING evidence and eyewitness testimony convicted an individual of Killing Philadelphia Police Officer Danny Faulkner in cold blood on December 9, 1981. Don't support these liberals and do not support there stores boycott!!!

October 14 2011 at 9:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mccglf

I do not agree with Occupy Wall Street but it is there right to protest. And while some may criticize greedy conservatives, I find the hyocrisy of Limosine Liberals genuinely laughable.

October 14 2011 at 8:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mccglf's comment
warrenbent

1) One of the REAL liberals ( as opposed to modern day phonies) was François-Marie Arouet who used the pen neame "Voltaire". Among his most famous quotes was:

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

One of the important things this illustrates is that even morons have a right to speak. And one reason to support this concept is that in reality the more morons speak, the greater is the probablity that the cream rises to the top.

2) What you call "limousine liberals" are anything but liberal.

Voltaire was a liberal. Liberalism is a philosophy originated during the Enlightenment.

The word "liberal" comes from the Latin "liberalis" and means "of freedom". American revolutionaries relied heavily on this philosphy in their overthrow of what they beleived to be tyrannical rule. It is a philosophy that advocates both free markets ande civil liberty.

Today's phony iberal's are truly left wing statists. They have far more in common with right wing statists than either have in common with true liberals.

October 14 2011 at 8:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dabrownman

These Marxists posing as Socialist democrats will take anything they can get for free including ice cream. These guys are the care of the democrat party with their hands out blaming everyone else for their poor individual performance that has lad them to be subservient to the slave masters on the left that make them pervert themselves to vile and despicable levels to receive government welfare, stolen from rich people, that no sane person would ever consider a decent fare for doing nothing at all..

October 13 2011 at 11:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
belldn3

Guess it's one way to pimp your product. I mean, gosh, they really do care.

October 13 2011 at 8:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KSMITHSPECTRUM

Hopefully all will follow and boycott Ben and Jerrys. They have been selling that over priced ice cream and damaging our enviornment for years . Now they are trying to destabalize our country.

October 13 2011 at 5:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to KSMITHSPECTRUM's comment
warrenbent

I/m not sure why anyone would boycott Ben and Jerrys

You gotta admi, it's pretty damn hilarious the way the've illustrated the ignorance of the flock of sheeple.

Great stuff!

October 13 2011 at 7:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to warrenbent's comment
nreds2

I am going to boycott them. I don't care how good their icecream is, they support a Cop Killer and don't deserve my business.

December 31 2011 at 5:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
someoneole

Plenty of whining right wing losers here today.

October 13 2011 at 5:22 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to someoneole's comment
warrenbent

And plenty of failures incapable of joining their fellow failures making fools of themselves.

Not to mention a few of us real liberals laughing at the intellectually defenseless statist buffoons.

October 13 2011 at 6:36 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
warrenbent

Your village is missing it's idiot, someonedumb!

October 13 2011 at 7:31 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
grimaulkin

I have boycotted Ben & Jerry's for decades and I continue to be happy that I have never supported that company, which was started by a couple of hippies who always supported leftist causes.

October 13 2011 at 5:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to grimaulkin's comment
someoneole

Bad bad leftist

October 13 2011 at 5:13 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
westy666

Ben & Jerry's Corporation is an example of OLD SCHOOL CAPITALISM...they became successful WITHOUT hiring lobbyists to have Congress pass laws that gave them an edge over their competition. They listened to their customers needs/wants, and produced an American-made product to satisfy the niche. Today's new strain of CORPORTATE CRONIE CAPITALISM defeats fair markets, fair competition. The Occupy Wall Street thrust has all along been against Corporations that buy favorable legislation to eliminate competition, deregulate industry rules and the EPA, and knowingly practice corrupt policies because the greed and profits far outweigh any fines or public distrust. Wall Street killed "supply and demand", and "free market competition". The only way to fix America now is to eliminate paid lobbyist influence to Congress, end the SHORT SELL for stock traders, tax hedge fund managers at income payroll rates - not capital gains rates.

October 13 2011 at 4:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to westy666's comment
warrenbent

EVERY corporation became successful without hiring lobbyists. The reason for this is simple. Companies BECOMING successful have no respurces for lobbyists.

Many companies hire lobbyists AFTER they become successful. The reason for this is simple. The Foggy Bottom goons have become significantly influential in citizens lives in direct contrast to the founding principles of our country, and in direct contrast to the countires interests. As a result, all kinds of citizens attempt to gain favor from the overly important and counter-productive goons.

if the goons are ever returned to their appropriate role, nobody will lobby the inconsequential goons. Why would they?

October 13 2011 at 6:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nreds2

And you are telling me that they aren't so wealthy that they have no worries about money from selling their overpriced Ice Cream to people throughout the country. These Occupy people are so Stupid they don't realize that people like Ben and Jerry are indeed part of the 1%.

December 31 2011 at 5:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply