Ben & Jerry's this week started honoring Colin Kaepernick, the activist and former NFL quarterback, with a new ice cream flavor. Change the Whirled celebrates his "courageous work to confront systemic oppression and to stop police violence against Black and Brown people," according to an announcement from the Unilever-owned brand.
A portion of the proceeds from Change the Whirled sales will support the Know Your Rights Camp, a nonprofit Kaepernick founded in 2016. The multicity youth camp has a curriculum designed to advance the well-being of Black and Brown communities. Because Kaepernick is a vegan, Change the Whirled is a non-dairy product made with a caramel sunflower butter base, fudge chips and swirls of graham crackers and chocolate cookies.
The new flavor's theme aligns with Ben & Jerry's history of activism, but Kaepernick's calls to defund the police may alienate many consumers. "My hope is that this partnership will amplify calls to defund and abolish the police and to invest in futures that can make us safer, healthier and truly free," Kaepernick said in a statement about his work with Ben & Jerry's. Change the Whirled will be available as a full-time flavor at Ben & Jerry's shops and retail stores nationwide next year.
Ben & Jerry's collaboration with Kaepernick on Change the Whirled is another sign that the Unilever-owned brand is forging ahead with a positioning centered around social activism, particularly as it relates to calls for racial justice in America. The company has deep roots in advocating for change, dating back to its 1% For Peace program in 1988 that called to redirect part of the U.S. national defense budget to peace-promoting activities.
More recently, the ice cream brand responded swiftly to raise awareness about racial inequality after George Floyd was killed in police custody, an incident that sett off global protests against police brutality and racism. Ben & Jerry's, which was named Marketing Dive's "Activist Brand of the Year," outlined a four-point plan this summer for dismantling White supremacy, including government initiatives to promote healing and reconciliation and make police more publicly accountable.
The Change the Whirled ice cream flavor arrives as people show heightened awareness about racism and report that brands should take a stand on the issue. More than three quarters (77%) of U.S. consumers said it is "deeply important that companies respond to racial injustice to earn or keep their trust," a survey by public relations firm Edelman found this year. Almost half (48%) of respondents said a brand's response to this year's protests against racism has a big effect on their likelihood to purchase from it, while 37% will buy or boycott a brand based on the response. The survey followed a July report by Piplsay that found 65% of U.S. consumers think brands should take a stand against racism, while 46% feel that such actions will lead to change.
Ben & Jerry's collaboration with Kaepernick indicates that the former quarterback continues to cement his role as an ambassador for brands that support social causes. Following his appearance in a 2018 Nike ad that was widely shared on social media, Kaepernick has worked with other brands to raise awareness for a variety of issues. Last summer, plant-based foods company Impossible Foods partnered with Kaepernick and his Know Your Rights Camp to promote food security among needy people. He also has a slate of media projects, including a Netflix docuseries and a content development deal with Disney, coming down the pike.
With the message of defunding the police, Ben & Jerry's and Kaepernick run the risk of alienating many consumers along ideological lines. Police reform is a divisive issue, with former President Barack Obama recently receiving criticism from progressive Democrats after saying in an interview on Snapchat's "Good Luck America" that "snappy" slogans like "defund the police" are a turnoff to politically moderate voters. Police reform is likely to remain a source of public debate that may challenge brands to respond, and they should proceed cautiously.