Possibility of sale chills Ben & Jerry’s ally

Maynard man campaigns on Web to keep ice cream maker independent

by Ronald Rosenberg

Using the slogan “Multi-flavors NOT multinationals,” a local opponent of the rumored sale of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. has turned to the Internet to launch a grass-roots campaign to keep the premium ice cream giant from being scooped up by a large corporation.

From his Web siteĀ savebenjerry.com, launched this week, Garret LoPorto, 23, of Maynard, is asking people who want the company to retain its independence to sign a petition against what he calls “the liquidation” of the 21-year-old company.

Since its formation by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in 1978, the company has been an activist for social causes, such as recycling and international peace organizations, and a major benefactor to environmental and community organizations, donating 7.5 percent of its pretax profits to charity.

Ben & Jerry’s “is like a living, breathing organism that is continually benefiting our planet and our communities through social activism and humane business practices every day that it survives,” wrote LoPorto, whose company Quantumlight.com has developed Web sites for the social causes Cohen has supported.

LoPorto writes on his Web site, “Unfortunately, today gigantic multinational companies are trying to take advantage of Ben & Jerry’s undervalued stock price. They want to skin the company alive and use its gentle lambskin brand identity to fool unsuspecting consumers into purchasing their soulless profit-driven products.”

Last week, Ben & Jerry’s stock rose more than 8 points on reports that two companies - rumored to be Unilever NV, the world’s biggest ice-cream maker, and one of its distributors, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream - each made offers to buy the South Burlington, Vt. maker of ice cream and frozen yogurt, the nation’s second largest. Dreyers tried unsuccessfully to acquire Ben & Jerry’s 22 months ago.

A third company, Italian ice cream maker Roncadin SpA, has also bid, according to The Wall Street Journal.

LoPorto, who said he bought his first share of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade yesterday, has also listed the company on eBay, the large on-line auction site, to grab publicity for his efforts to keep the company independent. According to his eBay listing, buyers seeking a controlling interest must be willing to pay $250 million.

“But hurry, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield can’t hold out much longer or they might get sued by their shareholders for trying to protect the environment and the community with their company instead of making a quick buck,” noted LoPorto. So far no bidders have responded.

Asked whether he considered this listing illegal, LoPorto said, “I’m not worried. I did the right thing.”

Chrystie Heimert, public relations manager at Ben & Jerry’s, said the company was aware of the Web site but had no comment.

The first demonstration to show support for keeping the company independent is set for noon on Monday, according to David M. Rapaport, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, whose members will picket in front of the Ben & Jerry’s shop in South Burlington.

“We are asking Ben & Jerry’s not to sell out,” said Rapaport. “We think a potential sale of the company to a multinational corporation will hit a nerve with Vermonters. If it is acquired, it would mean a loss of local control, a loss to our economy, particularly Vermont farmers. As for the demonstration, this is Vermont and the tone will be friendly and festive.”

Ben & Jerry’s Homemade closed down 5/16 at 26 1/4.