Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Ben & Jerry’s Advantage

Collis and Rukstad’s Can You Say What Your Strategy Is? outlines the three main elements that should be included in a strategy statement. Corporations and nonprofits alike spend considerable effort to develop strategies that can be adopted organization-wide. However, these strategies can be too general and cannot be applied to the day-to-day operations and decisions that are made by entry-level employees all the way to the CEO or executive director. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company is an interesting company to apply Collis and Rukstad’s framework because it’s original leaders were never focused on profit making, and instead focus their strategic efforts in the socially-good arena.

What is Ben & Jerry’s main strategic objective? As mentioned previously, it was never purely profit expansion, however, this is focus on ancillary benefits is why Ben and Jerry’s brand initially was successful. Ben & Jerry’s “contribution to society” goes far beyond providing ice cream for general consumption and gaining profit. Instead, Ben & Jerry’s consistent objective has been to sell ice cream that is locally sourced, sustainably produced and creating social impact on employees and suppliers. Their “motivation for being in business” sets them apart from all other superpremium ice cream brands by offering customers a socially-good option for their supermarket ice-cream. Ben & Jerry’s does not care about being the largest nor the most profitable business in the superpremium market. Ben & Jerry’s Product Mission is mostly closely tied to this Objective statement, with a focus “to make, distribute and sell the finest quality all natural ice cream and related products in a wide variety of innovative flavors made from Vermont dairy products.”

Ben & Jerry’s mission statements are not as distinct when it comes to scope of their strategy. Because Ben & Jerry’s may not put as much focus on the importance of geographic focus of their products, their scope focuses on the ways their product and organization improves “the quality of life of a broad community: local, national and international.” To the potential strategic detriment of Ben & Jerry’s, the company sets its mission to create social-good for perhaps to wide a group of individuals and areas of impact. Collis and Rukstad specifically note the importance of noting the customer segments of interest and geographic location. Ben & Jerry’s mission statements do not cover this scope in a succinct and management fashion.

Lastly, what is Ben & Jerry’s value proposition for customers? We don’t know the specific customer segments that Ben & Jerry’s caters to, but can make a guess that their customer base is focused on individuals who care about the values identified by Ben & Jerry’s in their other mission statements: customers who consider the social-good that companies are creating in their operations. “Advantage” is arguably the strongest portion of Ben & Jerry’s strategic mission statements. Ben & Jerry’s supply chain of ingredients and employee treatment are a strategic advantage to customers who care about these values and want to support them in their buying options. However, Ben & Jerry’s expansion to capture other customers could prove difficult, as it can be assumed that not all customer segments put such high importance on social impact.

Overall, Ben & Jerry’s strategic mission statements generally cover a strong amount of what Collis and Rukstad discuss. Though perhaps not the strongest business-focused approach, it can be assumed that employees at Ben & Jerry’s can all articulate the socially-driven portion of their business operations. How this translates into increased profit and larger market value is not necessarily clear, which throws into question the long-term viability of their business approach.

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