Ben and Jerry are in New Hampshire today, but they’re not selling ice cream. They’re pitching a 74-year-old candidate for president – their old pal Bernie Sanders.
In a recent interview, they recalled Sanders’ first election victory – a sqeaker.
“I remember being at the victory party,” said Ben Cohen, who was interviewed by phone Wednesday as he and Jerry Greenfield drove to New Hampshire. “He won by like ten votes.”
The pair had departed from Burlington, Vermont, where they opened their first store in 1978 and where Sanders narrowly won his first election. (He became the town’s mayor in 1981.) They’ve known him for more than 30 years: first as their mayor, then as the congressman, now as their senator.
With Sanders campaigning for president this year — and the New Hampshire Primary set for Tuesday — the ice cream giants are hitting the trail for their guy who’s running for the Democratic nomination against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“A candidate like this comes around once in a lifetime,” Cohen said. “It’s been amazing … to see how consistent he’s been fighting for a government that works for working people.”
Cohen announced last week that he’d created a new ice cream named for Sanders, called Bernie’s Yearning. It’s mint ice cream with a layer of chocolate on top, meant to symbolize the wealth concentrated among the rich. (You have to break up the chocolate and “spread the wealth” into the mint.)
Greenfield, for his part, has focused on producing “lighted signs” for Sanders. The yard signs say “Bernie” in LED lights.
When Cohen was CEO, Ben & Jerry’s had a rule saying the highest-paid employee couldn’t make more than five times what an entry-level worker made. (The rule ended when he stepped down in 1994.) Cohen and Greenfield, both 64, have not held any formal authority at Ben & Jerry’s since Unilever bought the company in 2000, but they remain “ambassadors” for the brand.
“Democracy, they say, is not a spectator sport,” Cohen said. “We’ve seen our purpose as being a fellow citizen rather than a rich neighbor. A democracy needs to be of the people, by the people and for the people. Right now, it’s of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations.”
The company has rolled out flavors named for progressive icons before, such as Willie Nelson’s Country Peach Cobbler and Stephen Colbert’s AmeriCone Dream. Shortly after President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, the pair released “Yes Pecan!” which included “amber waves of buttery ice cream with roasted nonpartisan pecans.”
While there are no plans to mass distribute Bernie’s Yearning—a Sanders staffer said there are only about 40 pints, and “they’re all in Ben’s freezer”—the campaign is holding a contest for supporters to win a pint.
“This was the first time I’ve ever been inspired to make a flavor for a presidential candidate,” Cohen said. “It’s also the first time there’s ever been a presidential candidate worth voting for.”