- Matthew McCarthy is taking on the post of CEO of Ben & Jerry’s with plans to ramp up the Vermont-based ice-cream brand’s corporate activism, The Wall Street Journal reports. McCarthy is a veteran of Unilever's food business. The global CPG giant bought the U.S. ice cream company in 2000. Ben & Jerry’s had the third-largest share of the U.S. ice-cream market with about 7% of sales in the past year, the newspaper said.
- While at Unilever, McCarthy led an initiative to move Hellmann’s mayonnaise to cage-free eggs and launched Unilever’s first U.S. organic snack brand: Growing Roots, which give half its profits to urban farmers, the WSJ notes. The new CEO told the newspaper he plans to amp up Ben & Jerry’s tradition of promoting environmental sustainability and advocating for social causes — while promoting its ice cream flavors. He said he expects to announce new initiatives and new products in coming months.
- “Many people are feeling a tremendous lack of trust in [public] institutions around them,” he told the newspaper. “We need organizations, including businesses, to step forward more than ever.”
You know a company takes social activism seriously when it has its very own social mission activism manager.
The company’s activism is authentic, and not something it picked up in recent years to appeal to millennial desires for social do-goodery. That's because about three years into running the ice-cream company, co-founder Ben Cohen saw himself becoming the corporate businessman he loathed. Rather than sell the company, the founders decided to use the business to promote positive change. Through the years, the company created ice creams to promote same-sex marriage to the fight against climate change. It also found ingredient sources it wanted to support, such as purchasing brownies from a bakery that hires the homeless or people recently released from prison.
The founders sold the company to Unilever in 2000, but the deal included the creation of an independent board to support social causes. That board has been successful in promoting the social message, and it will be interesting to see the efforts the new CEO takes to carry the mission even further.
Of course, as the third-largest seller of ice cream in the U.S., Ben & Jerry’s fans stretch across the political spectrum, which means the company risks offending customers by getting involved with causes. That happened in 2016, when Ben & Jerry’s published a blog post supporting Black Lives Matter. It prompted some consumers to boycott their products to support the pro-police Blue Lives Matter efforts.
In addition to taking on the mantle of various causes, the company has worked to fit into ingredient trends. It partnered with Vegan Action to create and market vegan options of its ice-cream products as an increasing number of consumers are turning away from meat and dairy.
On paper, McCarthy seems like a perfect fit for Ben & Jerry’s. It will be interesting to see if whatever plans he has to boost activism and add healthier ice-cream options will be enough to drive sales.