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edge staff writer


Ben & Jerry's co-founder creates new flavor for Bernie

February 10, 2016
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From humble origins in Burlington, Vermont, in the late 1970s to its current status as one of the most popular global ice cream brands, Ben & Jerry's ice cream is an example of the American Dream at work.

Two childhood friends, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, take a correspondence course on ice cream-making, craft some creative flavor variations, open a small ice cream shop in a renovated garage, expand as success allows, designate a significant amount of profit to various causes and charities and eventually sell the company for hundreds of millions of dollars. As a condition of sale, both Ben & Jerry maintained positions on the board of directors while insisting that the new owners (Unilever) would continue funneling a percentage of profit to the Ben & Jerry's Foundation.

During the 22 years that Ben and Jerry operated the company, Cohen says that he was often inspired to create new flavors of ice cream based on popular culture, social causes or the delectably irresistible combination of ingredients. For the first time, he's created a flavor in honor of a presidential candidate.

'Bernie's Yearning' is a limited edition (as in only 40 pints, each handmade by Ben, in his kitchen) flavor created for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders's campaign, under the brand name, 'Ben's Best.'

'Jerry and I have seen Bernie in action over the last 30 years here in Vermont and the guy is amazing,' Cohen told me last week in a phone interview from his home in Burlington. 'We just got back from Iowa where we caucused for Bernie. He deserves everybody's vote and whatever you can do to help him.'

'This is a participatory flavor,' Cohen says. 'You open up the pint lid, and what you see is this huge disc of solid chocolate. That represents all the wealth that has gone to the top one per cent since the end of the recession. Below the chocolate is just solid mint ice cream. That represents the rest of us. Then you take your soup spoon and you whack that chocolate into a lot of little pieces, then you mix it around and there you have it Bernie's Yearning.''

Knowing upfront that 'Bernie's Yearning' would have to be an extremely limited edition flavor, Cohen was faced with the dilemma of how to distribute (or, perhaps, redistribute) the ice cream. The solution: Donate most of them to Sanders supporters.

'The original idea was that we were going to make a small number of pints and put them up for auction on eBay and have the money go to Bernie's campaign,' Cohen told me. 'Then we realized that, legally, there were problems with getting money to the campaign and also the fact that auctioning it off to the person who had the most money would be very un-Bernie-like. This way, it's available to everybody regardless of how much money they have and, hopefully, people will make a donation to Bernie's campaign.'

Twenty-five of the 40 individually autographed and numbered pints of 'Bernie's Yearning' went to randomly selected winners who provided their name and contact information A message from Ben on the website reads, 'This site is owned by me, Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's.It is not associated with Ben and Jerry's Homemade, Inc or the Sanders for President Campaign. It reflects my views alone.'

Not that he would seriously consider it, but what if Cohen were to create a flavor for the Donald Trump campaign? What might it consist of?

'The furthest I've got on a flavor for Trump is Donald Trump's Junk,' Cohen said, laughing. 'Trump came to Burlington and held a rally at the Flynn (Center for the Performing Arts). The deli next door came up with a sandwich called 'The Trumpster,' with two slices of white bread and three pounds of baloney in the middle. Maybe that's what we would throw into Trump's Junk.''

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