While the global ice cream company may not have embarked on its mission to “drive change” to be popular, it hasn’t hurt. Quite the opposite, in fact.
In the third quarter of FY20, parent company Unilever reported mid-teens growth of in-home ice cream led by Ben & Jerry’s and Magnum.
“Despite all of the challenges that our world, society and economy is facing, we have just come off our best year ever,” Miller said.
“This company started in a dilapidated petrol station, a mile and a half from where I’m sitting currently. We’re now a global ice cream company, and we have grown consistently year over year, over year. Our company and its reputation punches well above its weight and I think that’s, in no small part, because of the work that we’re willing to take on.”
True to its mission
That work has spanned a range of issues from marriage equality to mandatory labelling of GMO foods, but in recent years, tackling racial injustice has been at the top of the agenda.
“We look for opportunities to work on issues that are rooted in our progressive values, where there is an opportunity for us to help mainstream an idea or a strategy, and be really clear around the change that we are seeking.”
In 2015, after a string of shootings of unarmed Black men in America, co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield gave a fervent talk to employees about the importance of honouring those founding aspirations to advance progressive social change and why they couldn’t stand on the sidelines while innocent Black people were killed.
“Ben took to the stage with a call to action for us … he said if we are in fact the company we say we are, we need to get engaged on those issues. I think many of us walked out of that room and said ‘Ben’s absolutely right’ and that’s kind of what set us on this path,” Miller explained.
“This felt like work that we had to undertake.”
Not just talk
As part of these activism efforts, Miller said the team focused on criminal justice reform and how the policing system disproportionately impacts people of colour.
Over the past two and a half years the business poured its marketing resources into a grassroots campaign in St Louis that aimed to shut down a “particularly horrendous prison” in the city.
“St Louis is about 50 per cent Black, and this prison population is approximately 98 per cent Black. About 94 per cent of the people that are in this prison are there because they aren’t able to post cash bond or bail. They’re pre-trial, they’ve never been convicted of anything, they’re essentially held because they’re poor,” he explained.
“We have brought this unique campaign toolbox … to support the strategy of the grassroots groups. About five months ago, the legislative body for the city, the Board of Aldermen, unanimously passed legislation to close down this prison.”
It’s moments like this that cements Miller’s belief that he has “the best job in the world”.
“I believe I have the best job in the world,” he said. “I see myself as a campaigner that works inside of a for-profit ice cream company. It is a job that is not common in the corporate world.”
Miller, who started his career in the halls of congress working for Senator Bernie Sanders, spoke to Inside Retail via video call from Vermont, hours after the historic inauguration of President Joe Biden and vice president Kamala Harris on Wednesday last.
“There was a big change today [Inauguration Day] here in the US and I’m hopeful that this is [the US] coming back to the table in a way that allows countries to work together to solve problems.”
And as new leadership prepares to get a handle on the Covid-19 pandemic, and governments globally begin to stimulate economies, Miller believes there’s hope ahead.
“There’s an opportunity to not go back to normal but to build back better. It’s an opportunity to sort of leapfrog and make progress on issues,” he said.
“There’s a lot on the table but I am an eternal optimist and believe that we have the opportunity to do important things in 2021.”