Ben & Jerry's braced to return

Ben & Jerrys braced to

ben and jerry logo 88 (photo credit: )
ben and jerry logo 88
(photo credit: )
World peace is no closer now than it was when the first Ben & Jerry's store in Israel opened with great fanfare on Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Street in 1988, but the flavor Imagine Whirled Peace is coming back to an ice-cream store near you. The popular American ice-cream chain had 16 branches in Israel 10 years ago, including three in Jerusalem and one that company cofounder Jerry Greenfield arrived to open personally in Netanya. Now it is making a comeback on the rocky road to the Israeli market. The Palestinian wave of violence that broke out in 2000 scared away the tourists who were the ice-cream stores' primary clientele and frightened the parents of the young people who scooped the ice cream. The branches gradually closed - the last one just two years ago - leaving only the outlet store at the company's factory in Yavne. "We closed the stores when the tourists stopped coming at the height of the intifada," said Avi Zinger, CEO of American Quality Products Ltd., the brand's marketer in Israel. "Instead, we focused on production for supermarkets. But now the retail market has come back and so have the tourists, so we have been thinking for a while that the time has arrived for a comeback." The first new branch opened in Tel Aviv's Cinema City earlier this year. Another two will open soon in the new Cinema City in Rishon Lezion and in Modi'in's Ishpro Center. Zinger is searching for the right location in Jerusalem. While Israeli supermarkets sell some 15 flavors of Ben & Jerry's in pints, the ice-cream stores will have 22 flavors that constantly change. Zinger said whenever a flavor is removed he gets angry calls and e-mails. There is no factory tour in Yavne like there is in Vermont, but Zinger said there likely would be when the factory eventually moves to another Israeli location to facilitate the expansion. The Israeli branch of Ben & Jerry's participates in the social activism of the parent company. For instance, it recently ran an entrepreneurial project for young people in Sderot, and Greenfield came to Israel last year to advance programs for special-needs children. But unlike Ben Cohen and Greenfield, Zinger said he is cautious not to do anything too political that could harm sales. He also is very sensitive to charges the company is anti-Israel, which he dismissed as completely false. Zinger learned his lesson in 1998 when, as a marketing gimmick to sell sorbet, he issued a press release saying he would make it with Eden Mineral Water. After the story ran in Haaretz, it led to international protests against Ben & Jerry's using "occupied" Syrian water from the Golan Heights. When the press contacted the company's Vermont headquarters, Ben & Jerry's responded that it would consider telling its Israeli licensee to stop using the water. That led to headlines saying Ben & Jerry's was "boycotting Israeli settlements," a charge Zinger vehemently denied. "We have no limitations on where we buy our ingredients," he said. "But there are people who still don't buy Ben and Jerry's because of those incorrect reports," Zinger said. "What Ben and Jerry can allow themselves, I can't. I have to be super-careful. It's a different world over here."