Ben and Jerry's Sold
The announcement last week that Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Vermont’s famous politically correct ice-cream makers, may be sold to a large corporation caused its flagging stock to soar. As Vermont Public Radio’s Steve Young reports, it also set off something like an identity crisis within Vermont – from the Governor on down.
Ben and Jerry’s Homemade long ago merged with Vermont’s image of itself, perhaps more so than any one company ever has in any one state. The image of a clean, wholesome industry espousing do-gooder causes and caring little for the bottom line fits well in a state that routinely elects a self-described Socialist as its lone Congressman and has the toughest environmental laws in the nation. This image may be only a part of Vermont’s reality. But as Governor Howard Dean said last week, more than just Vermonters are buying it -- literally:
Dean : Everywhere you go in this country, if I say Vermont, they say Ben & Jerry’s, it’s like maple syrup…Ben & Jerry’s has probably done more to market Vermont than any other company in the last twenty years
SOUND: Cash register transaction, music and ambi ducks under next graph
This weekend few holiday shoppers stopped into Ben and Jerry’s original ice cream parlor along Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace for a cone of Cherry Garcia or Doonesbury Berry. Machinist Vin Jackson ordered a cappuchino instead and reflected on the proposed buy-out:
Jackson: I think it's going to hurt sales to go to a bigger conglomerate.. People I think believe in Ben and Jerry's because it's from Vermont and it's one of the Vermont products and Vermonters are really proud of their products and very supportive.
Rebecca Irwin, a graduate student at the University of Vermont, expressed the widely felt fear here that Vermont is being bought up by out of staters:
Irwin: I think it's really horrible that Ben and Jerry's is thinking of selling out to the Nestles Corporation. Ben and Jerry's is one of the only Vermont companies we seem to have left and I think it would be a real tragedy to the state of Vermont.
In reality, Nestles Corporation is only one of a number of companies in the bidding. But industry analysts, such as Jeffrey Kantner of Prudential Financial, say Vermonters anxiety about the sale may be misplaced. Kanter says a new owner could shore up the company financially without dropping the ice cream maker’s Vermont-based, anti-corporate, cachet:
Kantner: Ben & Jerry have spent their lives building a company that wasn’t cut from the same mold as corporate America. It’s always had a very unique corporate culture. I mean it’s capitalism versus tie-dye.
Kantner says a new buyer would be smart to keep Ben and Jerry’s Peace Pops, the quirky flavors, and the identification with the counterculture while infusing the company with much needed cash. For NPR News, I’m Steve Young in Burlington, Vermont.