Ben Cohen (businessman)

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Ben Cohen
Cohen in 2010
Bennett Cohen

(1951-03-18) March 18, 1951 (age 73)
EducationColgate University
OccupationFood company founder
Known forCo-founder with Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerrys, former company CEO

Bennett Cohen (born March 18, 1951) is an American businessman, activist and philanthropist. He is a co-founder of the ice cream company Ben & Jerry's.[1]

Early life[edit]

Cohen was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in the town of Merrick, New York, on Long Island by Jewish parents Frances and Irving. He spent at least one summer at Buck's Rock Performing and Creative Arts Camp in New Milford, Connecticut.[2] Cohen first met and befriended his future business partner Jerry Greenfield in a seventh grade gym class in 1963.[3] They continued on to Sanford H. Calhoun High School.[4] In his senior year, Cohen found work as an ice cream man before leaving to attend Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.[1] He also studied at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he mostly took pottery classes.[5]

Over the next decade, Cohen pursued his interest in pottery and dropped out of college after his sophomore year.[6] He also worked as a McDonald's cashier, Pinkerton guard, deliverer of pottery wheels, mop-boy at Jamesway and Friendly's, assistant superintendent, ER clerk, and taxi driver, before settling on work as a craft teacher at a private school for emotionally-disturbed adolescents. While teaching at the Highland Community School, Cohen began experimenting with making his own ice creams.

Ben & Jerry's[edit]

Cohen in 2012 with business partner Jerry Greenfield

In 1977, Cohen decided to go into business with his old friend Jerry Greenfield, and in May of the next year, the two men opened Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream Parlor in Burlington, Vermont. They initially intended to start a bagel business, but found the equipment costs prohibitive and switched to ice cream instead. They chose Burlington as a location because it was a prominent college town which, at the time, had no ice cream shop. Ben & Jerry's distinctive style of ice cream was developed to compensate for Cohen's anosmia, as he kept adding larger and larger chunks to the ice cream to satisfy his need for texture in food.[7] Cohen resigned as Chief Executive Officer of Ben & Jerry's in 1996.[8]

Other business ventures[edit]

In March 2023, it was reported Cohen started Ben’s Best Blnz, or B3, a non-profit firm that offered cannabis products like low-THC pre-rolls and full-spectrum vapes. The stated objective of this effort was to correct for the wrongs of the War on Drugs and to narrow the racial wealth gap. Proceeds from sales would be split among three entities, with 10% going to the Last Prisoner Project, 10% going to the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, and the remaining 80% going to NuProject.[9]

Political activism[edit]

Cohen speaking at the Bernie Sanders Navy Pier presidential rally, March 2019

As Ben & Jerry's gradually grew into a nationwide business and one of the largest ice cream companies in the U.S., Cohen turned his new-found wealth and prominence toward a variety of political causes, generally through the Ben & Jerry's Foundation. The Foundation receives 7.5% of all Ben & Jerry's pre-tax profits and distributes funds to organizations such as the Anti Displacement Project. Cohen also oversaw TrueMajority and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.[10]

He is a vocal supporter of Democratic candidates and progressive causes. He supported Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 Democratic Party presidential primaries.[11] In 2008, he initially supported John Edwards followed by Barack Obama.[12]

In 2012, he helped launch the Stamp Stampede campaign to stamp messages on the nation's currency in support of passing a constitutional amendment to help overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and reduce the influence of private corporations on politics.

On April 18, 2016, Cohen was arrested, with Jerry Greenfield, while at a Democracy Awakening protest in Washington, D.C.[13][14]

In July 2021, Cohen and Greenfield announced their support for the company's decision to end sales of Ben & Jerry's products in the occupied Palestinian territories. In an opinion piece in the New York Times they wrote "it’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies".[15]

On October 10, 2021, Ben and Jerry were interviewed by Alexi McCammond of Axios on HBO. McCammond asked Ben about his political views regarding stopping the sales of ice cream in Israel. Ben was subsequently asked why Ben & Jerry's ice cream was sold in Georgia and Texas in response to Georgia's voter identification law and the 2021 Texas Heartbeat Act, which restricts abortions after 6 weeks. Ben replied by stating "I don't know," and "By that reasoning, we should not sell ice cream anywhere."[16]

In 2022 Cohen funded the Pierre Sprey Award for journalism. The inaugural awardees included Sam Husseini, Aaron Maté, Benjamin Abelow, and Sudarsan Raghavan.[17][18]

In 2023 Cohen faced criticism over his opposition to U.S. weapons deliveries to Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression, with some calling for boycotts against Ben & Jerry's.[19] Cohen said: “The U.S. could use its power to advocate for a negotiated settlement, but instead it’s using its power to prolong the war — prolong and prolong and increase the death and destruction”.[17]

Cohen is a top donor to the People's Power Initiative and Eisenhower Media Network, organizations that have argued against U.S. military and financial assistance to Ukraine.[20] Speakers for the Eisenhower Media Network have been accused by the Daily Beast of echoing Russian talking points on Ukraine, including blaming NATO expansion for the outbreak of the conflict. Cohen told the Daily Beast that "the U.S. should use its power to negotiate an end to the war, not prolong the death and destruction by supplying more weapons".[21]

In 2022, Ben & Jerry's parent company, Unilever, criticized a tweet from Ben & Jerry's Twitter account blaming U.S. President Joe Biden for contributing to rising tensions with Russia and distanced itself from Ben & Jerry's position on Ukraine.[17][22]

Cohen was arrested in July 2023 during a protest against the U.S. government's prosecution of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.[23]

In March 2024, Cohen was one of several signatories of "A Statement From Jewish Americans Opposing AIPAC", a letter denouncing AIPAC's lobbying efforts in the United States government.[24]

Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns[edit]

Cohen became a prominent supporter of Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries.[25]

Cohen debuted a special ice cream flavor called "Bernie's Yearning" on January 25, 2016 in support of Sanders. The flavor, released under the brand Ben's Best, consisted of plain mint ice cream covered by a solid layer of mint chocolate. According to Cohen, "The chocolate disk represents the huge majority of economic gains that have gone to the top 1 percent since the end of the recession. Beneath it, the rest of us."[26] This was done in an effort to showcase the United States' current socioeconomic issues. The ice cream was made by hand in Cohen's kitchen with ingredients purchased by the Sanders campaign. Ben & Jerry's released a statement disavowing connection or support for the product, saying "This was created by Ben as a citizen. The company is not involved.”[27]

On February 21, 2019, Cohen was named a national co-chair of Bernie Sanders' 2020 campaign.[28] In August 2019, Cohen produced another Bernie Sanders flavor called "Bernie's Back."[29] It was not for sale in stores, but was awarded as a prize to 40 contest winners.


  • Cohen was honored by the New York Open Center in 2000 for his "leadership in pioneering socially responsible business."[30]
  • Cohen was a US Small Business Person of the Year in 1988.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Ben Cohen – Co-Founder Of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream". Archived from the original on 2008-03-17. Retrieved 2008-07-11.
  2. ^ "Buck's Rock Testimonials". Retrieved 2020-02-10.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Bernstein, James. "Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield". Newsday. Newsday, Inc. Archived from the original on 2008-01-27. Retrieved 2009-02-25.
  4. ^ Garcia, Andrew (September 20, 2018). "Calhoun grads Ben and Jerry return to Long Island". Herald Life. Retrieved 27 January 2021.
  5. ^ "An Interview with Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream | Studio Potter". Retrieved 2024-04-25.
  6. ^ "Calhoun grads Ben and Jerry return to Long Island". Herald Community Newspapers. 20 September 2018. Retrieved 2020-01-14.
  7. ^ Zierah, Elizabeth (2008-07-08). "The Nose That Never Knows: The miseries of losing one's sense of smell". Slate. Archived from the original on 14 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-11.
  8. ^ Carlin, Peter (February 5, 1995). "Pure Profit - For Small Companies That Stress Social Values as Much as the Bottom Line, Growing Up Hasn't Been an Easy Task. Just Ask Ben & Jerry's, Patagonia and Starbucks". Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ "'Joint' venture: Ben from Ben & Jerry's starts pot nonprofit". AP NEWS. 2023-04-25. Retrieved 2023-04-25.
  10. ^ "True Majority: Who We Are". Archived from the original on 2008-07-08. Retrieved 2008-07-11.
  11. ^ "Ben Cohen Endorses Kucinich for President". 2003-06-20. Archived from the original on 2003-08-10. Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  12. ^ Isenstadt, Alex (2008-02-09). "Ben Cohen endorses Obama". Retrieved 2008-07-11.[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ Maloney, Lauren (19 April 2016). "Ice Cream's Ben & Jerry Arrested".
  14. ^ "Ben & Jerry's Co-Founders Arrested During Protest".
  15. ^ Cohen, Bennett; Greenfield, Jerry (28 July 2021). "Ben & Jerry's Opinion: New York Times". The New York Times.
  16. ^ "Scoop: Ben and Jerry stumped by Texas and Georgia". 10 October 2021. Archived from the original on 2021-10-11. Retrieved 2021-11-27.
  17. ^ a b c Thys, Fred (2023-03-20). "Vermont nonprofit founded by ice cream magnate Ben Cohen opposes U.S. support for Ukraine". The VTDigger. Retrieved 2023-04-24.
  18. ^ "The Pierre Sprey Award for Defense Reporting and Analysis". Retrieved 2023-04-24.
  19. ^ Skinner, Anna (2023-03-20). "Ben & Jerry's faces boycott calls over founder's stance on Ukraine weapons". Newsweek. Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  20. ^ "About Us". mysite. Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  21. ^ Nemtsova, Anna (2023-03-20). "Ben & Jerry's Founder Is 'Top Donor' of Group Campaigning Against U.S. Military Support for Ukraine". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  22. ^ Sweney, Mark (2022-02-10). "Ben & Jerry's Ukraine tweet gets frosty reception from Unilever boss". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-04-13.
  23. ^ Wilkins, Brett (6 July 2023). "Ben & Jerry's, CodePink Co-Founders Arrested in DC Demanding Freedom for Julian Assange". Retrieved 7 July 2023.
  24. ^ "A Statement From Jewish Americans Opposing AIPAC". The Nation. March 20, 2024. Retrieved March 22, 2024.
  25. ^ "Bernie Sanders Lands a Sweet Endorsement From Ben & Jerry's Co-Founder". 2015-08-03. Retrieved 2016-03-31.
  26. ^ "A scoop for sharing: Ben & Jerry's founder makes Bernie Sanders flavor". 25 January 2016.
  27. ^ "Ben & Jerry's founder unveils new 'Bernie's Yearning' ice cream flavor". Politico. 25 January 2016. Retrieved 2016-03-31.
  28. ^ "Sanders Campaign Announces First Co-Chairs" (Press release). Burlington, Vermont: Bernie 2020. February 21, 2019. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  29. ^ Zhang, Jenny G. (August 6, 2019). "Ben and Jerry Hope You'll Feel the Bern With a Limited-Edition Ice Cream for Bernie Sanders". Eater. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  30. ^ "Explore. Fulfill. Transform". Open Center. Retrieved 2016-03-31.

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