Ben and Jerry's Commit to 100% Fair Trade Sourcing
By the end of 2013, Ben and Jerry’s will source 100% fair trade ingredients.
This is the big, hairy and audacious goal that Ben and Jerry’s made in 2010. And they have almost reached it. Fifty-eight flavors and hundreds of ingredients. Yet they are determined to certify every flavor, every small ingredient. For a company who is now owned by the billion-dollar conglomerate, the small economy that is Unilever, this decision equates to huge, global impact. And lots of fairly trade, Cherry Garcia bliss.*
According to Vice President of Public Relations, Sean Greenwood, it’s the biggest sourcing transition Ben and Jerry’s has ever made. “We’ve committed to change our sourcing to 100% fair trade by the end of the year and when you count the hundreds of ingredients that we have that make up composite products that makes it a huge challenge.”
Take the jammin’ Phish Food, ** for example. Greenwood described the breakdown to me. First there’s the chocolate ice cream or chocolate yogurt, caramel swirl, marshmallow, and of course the chocolate fish. The chocolate fish are made up a different cocoa powder base than the other chocolate chunks. And the chocolate fish are made of seven different ingredients. Every swirl, every unique sugar or extract must link to a fairly traded, supply chain.
“You continue to drill down into these minute details and it becomes this incredible spreadsheet. I think there’s a real popular and sexy appeal of Ben and Jerry’s employees who get to play with the flavors, but if people saw the Excel spreadsheet, they have to work with hundreds of ingredients. But we do it because we believe in making a difference in sourcing our ingredients.”
The fair trade certification of the last, final ingredient will be a huge accomplishment for Ben Jerry’s. And for Unilever.
“We’ve increased our global reach because of Unilever’s ability. We are undoubtedly at the best point we’ve ever been from 2000 until today in terms of walking the talk for what we think Ben and Jerry’s should be doing and returning a reasonable profit. They are like a huge battleship that trying to turn takes an enormous effort and time but when it is going in the right direction you see the impact it can make,” Greenwood commented.
In fact, Unilever was recognized for its transparent sustainability reporting at PwC's Building Public Trust Awards in November 2012. Most recently they won the Gold Medal for International Corporate Achievement in Sustainable Development by the World Environment Center. And slowly but surely, the battleship is turning around. Ben and Jerry’s commitment is a strategic move in that change.
Ben and Jerry’s has also decided to change their fair trade labeling- from Fair Trade USA to the newly established Fairtrade International USA. Their decision was not about “politics” but rather about working with a certifier who is more closely aligned with their social, economic and product mission.
“Because of our mission, our vision and model, it made most sense to transition to work with FLO USA moving forward. By no means does it mean that we wasted five years with Fair Trade USA. It’s not a judgment on them. Our DNA has been to small family farmers which we think are the backbone to agriculture throughout the globe. But it doesn’t mean there’s any judgment if you work with larger folks. We totally respect what Fair Trade USA is doing today. They are taking a path that they think is right to support these farmers in developing countries. And for us, it’s a great time in our country’s history. There have been many decades where companies have taken advantage of small farmers and for Fair Trade USA to say, “We think we can help farmers this way” and for FLO USA to say, “Well, we think we can help farmers this way.” That’s a tremendous place. I think we’re all trying to do the right thing. We have nothing but respect for Fair Trade USA for them to go boldly in the way they think is the right one,” explained Greenwood.
From a supply chain management perspective this decision makes a lot of sense. Ben and Jerry’s works with FLO in Europe and to reduce any redundancy or intricacies in the supply chain saves time and money.
I asked Greenwood if he could offer any advice to companies who are exploring fair trade certification. With two US-based NGO’s to choose from, I asked Greenwood, how does a manufacturer decide which one is right for them?
“I think if you ask anybody, you need to weigh what’s most important to you. They both have their own challenges, their own expertise. It’s not that one is right and one is wrong. It’s about which one is the best match with your company. For us what we did with Fair Trade USA in the US market was to grow awareness around fair trade and I think we did some really good things together. For manufactures, you need to be fully informed and decide where your company best matches. Like for a company who thinks there’s no way they can hit the 20% mark -well, now there’s an opportunity for them. I’d argue that it’s a lot better than not pursuing that—especially any time we can provide multiple organizations to look out for and help small producers as well as provide multiple options for consumers and manufactures.”
I suggested to Greenwood that Ben and Jerry’s should offer training to other companies who want to make this same 100% fair trade switch but don’t know where to begin.
He said, “Like Scoop University?”
Yes, exactly. Scoop University: where you learn the scoop on fair trade sourcing- and where every lecture begins with a scoop of Chunky Monkey, Chubby Hubby or Late Night Snack. *** Clearly, I’ve been studying at home
*Several pints of Cherry Garcia, Fro-Yo Half Baked, and Greek Yogurt Banana Peanut Butter were consumed during the writing of this article. Research is everything.
** Several interventions were made by friends, encouraging me that I'd done enough research and that it was time to put down my spoon.
***Several spoons were thrown at friends as a way to ensure them that indulgence was necessary in order to conduct this research.