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Ben & Jerry's goes cage-free and expands fair trade.

Fans of Ben & Jerry's who worried it would lose it progressive edge once it had been acquired by food conglomerate Unilever, should take note of the Vermont-based company's recent activities. To begin, Ben & Jerry's has announced that it is changing its egg-buying policies to become the first national food manufacturer to only purchase eggs from hens that are not kept in cages. In addition, it has significantly expanded its use of Fair Trade ingredients and now claims that it is the largest ice cream and frozen food manufacturer to offer Fair Trade Certified ingredients. The company is also maintaining its fun side, announcing the winner of its "Do Us a Flavor" contest.

Ben & Jerry's announced that it is making a total transition to egg suppliers who use "Certified-Humane," cage-free methods to raise their egglaying hens. Discussing the new egg policy, company CEO Walt Freese said: "I speak for all of us at Ben & Jerry's to say how pleased we are to announce this transition. Ben and Jerry's has always stood for progressive practices. We have long-standing support for small family farms. When this issue was brought to our attention by the Humane Society, they provided information to us we previously didn't have."

Ben & Jerry's spokesman Rob Michalak added: "The closer we got to the issue, the more we realized how complex it was. It required us to move beyond our own expertise. We received substantive input from a variety of experts and resources, all of which helped us to arrive at our decision."

They were referring to pressure brought to bear on Ben & Jerry's last month when the Humane Society made an issue of the company's purchasing eggs from Michael Foods, which the society accused of inhumane treatment towards its hens. The Society reports that 95% of the eggs produced in the United States come from egg producers that keep hens in tightly-packed cages--known as batteries--that are so cramped, the birds can't spread their wings.

Although it was initially slow to respond to the challenge, being in the glare of the politically correct spotlight was not something the company could live with, considering the large number of consumers who support it for its leadership in enlightened capitalism. Following the announcement, the Humane Society turned its jeers to cheers, noting the more than symbolic impact of Ben & Jerry's will have.

The ice cream maker uses about 2.7 million pounds of egg yolks a year. The company reports that it will take four years for it to change all its eggbuying practices. Once the program is implemented, the eggs that Ben & Jerry's uses will come from hens that have nests, perches and dust bathing areas.

On the Fair Trade front, Ben & Jerry's announced that it is expanding its Fair Trade Certified ice cream flavors, making it the largest ice cream and frozen food manufacturer to offer Fair Trade Certified ingredients. Ben & Jerry's Fair Trade Certified line-up will now include: Vanilla, Chocolate, Coffee, Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, and Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz. The announcement comes during Fair Trade month when TransFair USA and businesses across the country are highlighting the importance of Fair Trade Certified products to third world producers.

"Fair Trade creates stronger economic conditions, which help farmers feed and clothe their families, send their kids to school, get bettor health care, in general improve the quality of their lives," said Paul Rice, founding President & CEO of TransFair USA, the only Fair Trade certification organization in the United States. "With something as simple as choosing to purchase a Fair Trade product, people are making a powerful decision to dramatically improve the quality of life for farmers half way around the world."

Ben & Jerry's is purchasing Fair Trade Certified coffee from a cooperative in Mexico; vanilla from Fair Trade Certified producers in India, with producers in Indonesia and Uganda under consideration; and Fair Trade Certified cocoa from producers in the Dominican Republic. Ben & Jerry's cofounder Jerry Greenfield noted: "Since Ben and I started the business we've used ethical values to guide our business decisions, such as sourcing ingredients. Expanding from our Fair Trade Certified Coffee flavors to Fair Trade Vanilla and Chocolate is another step forward in our values-led sourcing decisions."

The new Fair Trade Vanilla will be available in Ben & Jerry's scoop shops starting in October and then available in supermarkets and grocery stores in January, 2007. Fair Trade Chocolate will be available in Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shops in December and then in grocery stores and supermarkets in January, 2007. Fair Trade Certified Coffee flavors are already available in scoop shops and grocery stores nationwide.

In addition to its good works, Ben & Jerry's still found time to have fun, naming Tasha Callister of Jacksonville, FL the winner of the company's "Do Us a Flavor" contest. Callister competed in the Flavor Finals at the Ben & Jerry's ice cream plant in Waterbury, VT along with four other flavor creators, who were selected from more than 40,000 entries from across the United States and Canada. She won the title of 'Honorary Ben & Jerry's Flavor Guru' and a hometown ice cream party for her friends and family featuring her creative concoction, Puttin' On The Ritz.

Inspired by her grandmother, who melted caramel cubes on a stick over a campfire and then squished them between crackers, Callister's creation blends vanilla ice cream, caramel and a Ritz Cracker swirl with chunks of chocolate covered ice cream sandwiches. "We invent and taste ice cream flavors all day long, so we thought it would be nice to have some fun with our fans, and give them a chance at making their own dream flavor," said Arnold Carbone, Conductor of Bizarre & D and Chief Flavor Guru at Ben & Jerry's. Carbone also served as one of the four judges on site for the event.

The other four finalists were: Mojito by Timothy Link of Troy, ID, a blend of lime ice cream with a light swirl of brown sugar, a touch of white rum and sprinkled with mint; Wackie Chan by Kerstin Karlhuber of Brighton, MA, a blend of sweet cream and ginger flavored ice cream, chocolate-covered fortune cookie bits and a fudge swirl; Apricotabra! by Reina Chilton of Tempe, AZ, a mix of creamy vanilla bean ice cream, chunks of apricot and extra dark chocolate, swirled with a tart apricot preserve drizzle; and Italian Renaissance by Robin Thorneycroft of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, a mix of amaretto liqueur ice cream with cherry chunks and sliced almonds

The competitors were paired with a Ben & Jerry's Flavor Developer and given hands-on training to expertly produce their flavor in the R&D lab. Then the finalists sat with the ice cream company's Design Department to put the finishing touches on their own pints at Ben & Jerry's headquarters in Burlington. They faced-off in a live event at the Waterbury plant as a panel of expert judges tasted their creative concoctions.

The Ben & Jerry's "Do Us A Flavor" contest took place from March through July 2006. Entries were judged on creativity (40%), flavor profile or taste (40%), and relevance to the Ben & Jerry's brand (20%). Each of the five finalists won an all-expenses paid, four-day trip to Vermont as well as a year's worth of free Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
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Publication:Ice Cream Reporter
Date:Oct 20, 2006
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