SOUTH BURLINGTON, VT: While Ben & Jerry’s has given up its prized independence by agreeing to be acquired by global behemoth Unilever NV, the company will not abandon its long-time devotion to social causes, several sources reported last week.
SOUTH BURLINGTON, VT: While Ben & Jerry’s has given up its prized
independence by agreeing to be acquired by global behemoth Unilever NV,
the company will not abandon its long-time devotion to social causes,
several sources reported last week.
Speculation late last year that Unilever was about to acquire B&J caused
panic among consumers, activists and even legislators in the company’s
home state of Vermont, many of whom feared that B&J’s sense of social
responsibility would quickly be smothered by a bottom-line corporate
attitude (PRWeek, Dec. 20, 1999). But now that the deal has been closed
(for dollars 326 million in cash), such fears have - temporarily, at
least - been put to rest.
Responding to months of protest about the possible acquisition, B&J’s PR
department promised last week that the company will remain true to its
heritage and mission.
’We think (Unilever’s) board and senior management put together the most
creative way to maintain our brand identity, our brand perspective and
our core values,’ said B&J PR manager Chrystie Heimert. ’Our message
continues to be that we are as close to independent as we could be.’
With the acquisition, Unilever has agreed to commit dollars 5 million as
well as 7.5% of profits derived from B&J to a charitable foundation;
create a dollars 5 million fund to help minority-owned businesses; and
distribute dollars 5 million to employees within six months. The company
has also promised that it will not eliminate jobs or change the way the
ice cream is made.
Heimert conceded that despite the plans to continue and even expand
B&J’s social mission, there will probably still be customers not willing
to forgive the company for selling out to a multinational. ’People buy
our ice cream for different reasons,’ said Heimert. ’Our charge is to
show them that we’re still who we profess to be.’