Interview with the Chubby Hubby

Get the Scoop Right from Jerry of Ben & Jerry

from AZ Central

If you've ever felt guilty about eating a pint of ice cream in one sitting, let out that gut and rest easy. Jerry Greenfield feels the same way.

"Strawberry," he said recently, reminiscing upon the previous night's after-dinner snack. "I shouldn't have eaten the whole pint, but I did."

Like his customers, Greenfield found it hard to put down the spoon. The 55-year-old co-founder of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream still eats the treat bearing his name, even after selling the company to consumer goods giant Unilever for $326-million in 2000. advertisement

The sale caused quite a commotion among Ben & Jerry's fans and stockholders. Ben & Jerry's, after all, was Vermont's little company that could, a socially and environmentally conscious scoop shop that offered such cuddly flavors as Chunky Monkey, Wavy Gravy and Cherry Garcia.

Today, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have "zero influence and zero responsibility" with the company, Greenfield says. But their names and faces grace each pint - Ben's the bearded one - and they draw a paycheck traveling the country as "goodwill ambassadors" for the brand.

He recently spoke with the Times about his business, his beliefs and the flavor he hopes Ben & Jerry's will never offer. Here are excerpts:

Obvious first question: What's your favorite flavor?

Heath Bar Crunch.

And is there a flavor that you just don't get?

You know, I don't understand the popularity of Chunky Monkey. It's banana ice cream with walnuts and chocolate chunks. I happen to think it's very good, but I'm surprised at how popular it is, because there are not many banana ice creams out there.

What's the worst idea you've gotten?

Bubble gum ice cream. I don't know that it's such a horrible idea. It's a bad idea for Ben & Jerry's, but in the right hands, it would probably be okay.

Is it weird seeing your name, Jerry, on a product that you no longer control?

It's not as weird as it used to be. In the early years, it had very much been defined by Ben and myself. But we knew we would not live forever. Someday we'd get hit by a truck or what have you. We'd try to incorporate values into the company, so that it stood for something, and it's not just about the two funny guys whose names are on it. Overall, people feel very good about the company and the ice cream, so I think I'm treated incredibly warmly and in a trusting way, which is kind of a nice way to go through life.

How often do you eat ice cream?

Far too often.

How do you work it off?

I don't. I'm larger than I should be. I maintain the human form, but I could stand to lose a few pounds. I do try to get a decent amount of walking in.

Do you still get a reaction, even to this day, from diehard fans and customers about selling the company back in 2000?

Oh yeah. And actually, it was not something we wanted to do. We tried very hard not to do it. The company was a public company at the time, and essentially, Unilever offered so much money for it that we were not able to turn it down.

If the opportunity ever came up for you to buy the company back, or take it private, or remove it from Unilever's control, would you do that?
I'd certainly look into it. It's a little hard to imagine.

Did you ever encounter people who felt the company was preaching to them?
Sure. I think it's a very small minority of people. And even people that disagree with the company's stands on issues often will say, "Well, I really respect that a company actually stands for something and believes in something. I may not agree with it, but . . ."

Are you a hippie?

Well, I'm 55 years old. If you say hippies are people who in the '60s and '70s had idealistic values and idealistic hopes and believed in things like peace and love and supporting your neighbor, then yes.


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