Window into Ben and Jerry’s: Scoops of Social Change•
What’s it like to rise up the ranks inside Ben and Jerry’s, one of America’s most beloved ice cream companies? Think the “hippie brand” with progressive values that shows how “you can do the right thing and still be profitable, ” says our insider. We talked with Ryan, a Ben and Jerry’s employee who’s spent more than a decade of his career at the company. He’s one devoted employee who built his career pursuing the Ben and Jerry’s mission for purity of product, sustainable financial growth and corporate social responsibility. The overall goal? To make the world a better place. No small task…
Ryan, Flagship Quality Manager
Experience: 13 years. Promoted from scooper to manager to GM.
How he got here
It started as a part-time college job. Working as a scooper in Boston offered a flexible schedule and a chance to meet kids from other schools. After graduation came the opportunity to go on a nationwide tour to support Ben and Jerry’s social initiative on education. Ryan became a believer in the bigger mission for social change and witnessed the power to promote social justice. Turns out the scoops are an amazingly effective ice breaker for tough conversations. Next came retail store manager and, after three years, a promotion to GM. Since then, he’s come to play a bigger role in corporate management, now overseeing the global flagship store in Vermont and continually innovating ways to localize a global brand—and its greater movement.
Ryan’s work as a retail manager comes with your expected duties. He’s in before 9:00 a.m., checks the inventory and peruses customer surveys to ensure both quality and service are rolling smoothly. He makes the rounds with store managers and trouble shoots any issues with efficiency and staffing for demand. But that’s just the normal stuff.
Then comes all the real ingredients that go into building this globally recognized, socially conscious brand.
Ryan speaks a mile-a-minute, rapid firing on all the social action items driven behind the innocuous face of an ice cream store. “Before the Supreme Court decision, it wasn’t easy to talk about marriage equality,” he gives an example of just one cause the company supports. He goes on to talk about Fair Trade suppliers, partnerships with NGOs, GMO-free legislation, and supporting reauthorization of the Voter Rights Act—in this case drumming up public attention with the introduction of a fudge-filled “Empower Mint” flavor. Currently, he’s working on how to reduce energy usage across all stores to get ahead of the curve in addressing Ben and Jerry’s environmental footprint. “Ice cream is a great way to have these difficult conversations.”
Though he manages a 40-person staff including five store managers, Ryan emphasizes that the scoop shops are just a small part of the business in terms of revenue. The retail stores aren’t a big money-maker but they play a huge part of connecting with customers. Having on the ground conversations and talking face-to-face about flavors as well as social issues helps him stay attuned to what customers care about. It’s a live window into future directions—where to innovate, where to pull back.
With 300 stores in the U.S. and 350-400 more in 30 countries worldwide, Ryan admits it’s a challenge to continually exceed expectations that come with being a well known brand. Though he manages the flagship store, his bigger contribution has to do with what Ben and Jerry’s calls “linked prosperity,” a radical idea explored by Brad Edmundson in his book Ice Cream Social, summarized here in his article for The Guardian. It was a bold concept to pursue: that as the company and its stores achieve success, it also allows everyone in the supply chain to prosper. From the delivery drivers to the dairy farmers and the coffee growers (and every vendor that supplies ingredients like almonds, walnuts and graham crackers), Ben and Jerry’s strives to elevate the whole ecosystem that touches their business. As an independent subsidiary of Unilever, the company also works to maintain its Vermont-born mindset. Ryan constantly thinks about “how do we inject our values into each transaction—it’s about more than just ice cream.” “I always think about it as a small business,” he goes on to say, “the work is never really done.”
Forget neighborhood ice cream truck that plays twinkling music through a loud speaker, your cone of Ben and Jerry’s could roll up in a sweet Tesla Model S. The company invested in a fully electric Tesla vehicle outfitted with an electric freezer. In an effort to really put its money where it’s mouth is, Ben and Jerry’s launched the “Save our Swirled” campaign with an environmentally conscious sampling vehicle that could help spread the message across the miles without increasing its own carbon footprint. Enter world’s most stylish ice cream cart served with a heaping scoop of environmental awareness.
The net net
In line with the mission for linked prosperity, Ryan stresses the team environment at Ben and Jerry’s. It’s important to not only be community-minded but also globally-minded—to operate business in a way that supports the local supply chain through social justice values that impact global movements.
On the surface, it’s an ice cream store and a company that stacks pints in the freezer section of supermarkets across America. But underneath the fun packaging which Ryan affectionately calls “goofy,” he says, “we know we stand for a lot more than that.”
Want to work at Ben and Jerry’s? Love their ice cream; love their company values. The two go hand in hand.
Are you a retail manager with an amazing mission? We’d love to hear about it. Or if there’s a job you’d like to learn more about, tell us in the comments and we’ll consider it for a future “Window into___” profile.