Ben & Jerry's Grand Opening in Downtown Promotes City Fair Trade Agreements

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The grand opening of a Ben & Jerry's at its new Center Street location drew Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, company co-founder Ben Cohen and various community members to the site Monday, generating visibility for the city's official position as a fair trade supporter and the company's dedication to using such ingredients.

Berkeley became the 19th city in the country to declare itself a fair trade supporter this past July, aligning itself with the Ben & Jerry's company's history of being the first ice cream purveyor in the nation to use fair trade-certified ingredients - namely those that guarantee that farmers or producers were paid a minimum floor price reflecting the cost of production and ensuring them a livable wage, according to the Fair Trade USA website.

"It costs a little more, but that's OK because you know the money's going to get to the people who do the work," Bates said at the opening.

One of many fair trade partners and vendors in the city - including Saul's Restaurant, the Numi Tea Company and the Global Exchange store - the new Ben & Jerry's attracts special buzz to the fair trade cause, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, though the store has been technically serving customers since June and had been located on Oxford Street under the current owner since 2006.

"We have multiple stores and companies that are committed to being fair trade vendors, but Ben & Jerry's is one of the most famous and more tasty," he said.

Worthington called the city's new position as a fair trade city "the next logical step" for Berkeley, after the Berkeley City Council's adoption of a fair trade policy on coffee in 2002. According to Cohen, who spoke briefly at the opening about the company's overall drive to use 100 percent fair trade-certified ingredients, Berkeley is his "favorite city," as it now embodies the same values as his company.

"There's a kind of social responsibility that's become more and more a part of doing business for local restaurants," said Michael Caplan, the city's economic development manager. "Ben & Jerry's is congruent with that trend."

The store's move from Oxford to Center also coincided with owner Parisa Samimi's need for an upgraded and more visible space closer to the Downtown Berkeley BART station, she said.

"We became really hidden, and because ice cream is an impulse product, you want it when you see it," Samimi said. "The location became a challenge and not the product."

For a large corporation like Ben & Jerry's, making the switch to fair trade ingredients is a financially feasible option, which has no impact on the product's flavor or taste, according to Cohen.

"It's a few (additional) pennies a pint; in the third world, those few pennies make a big difference," he said at the opening.

Ben & Jerry's policy to support local nonprofits and use high-quality ingredients is what Samimi said attracted her to the business in the first place. She added that she also supports Greyston Bakery - a nonprofit bakery in New York that employs homeless and ex-convict individuals - by purchasing their brownies for use at the location.

"Berkeley is a perfect fit for (this)," she said. "To me, it means trying to integrate a concern for the community into as many parts of the business model as possible."


Hannah Moulthrop covers local business. Contact her at [email protected]

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