Online Vote Will Tell the Fate of Ben & Jerry's Flavors

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Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., acquired last year by Unilever, will use valuable real estate on ice cream containers to encourage online voting on new, limited-batch flavors.


Starting in March, stores nationwide will receive pint-sized containers of Ben & Jerry's Peanut Turtles -- chocolate ice cream with caramel swirls, peanuts and fudge. An icon next to the nutritional information on the pack will direct consumers to www.benjerry.com/flavorsavior for feedback.


"I don't think it will actually help us sell more ice cream," said Dave Stever, brand manager at Ben & Jerry's, South Burlington, VT. "It's really kind of a way for fans to place their vote and interact with the brand. We receive lots of requests from people who're writing in, 'Hey, can you please bring [my flavor] back?' This is just one of those ways that people come to us trying to save their flavor before it might get discontinued."


The exercise is in keeping with the 21-year-old Ben & Jerry's playful persona.


Visitors to the Flavor Savior Web page will be asked to click on an image of the pint-pack. This leads to the "Welcome to the Flavor Lobby" page. Consumers are asked to lobby for or against saving the limited edition flavor.


After entering the feedback in a box, the consumer moves on to the Rate-O-Matic. This meter allows consumers to rate the flavor on a numeric scale, with 1 for "Eeeeewwww!!!" and 5 for "Fantastic." Finally, it's time to "Keep It" or "Can It." Clicking on one of the options sets off a depicted detonator, either with cheers or boos.


And just before sign-off, the consumer is asked for his name and e-mail address, only for tracking the Flavor Savior program.


The Flavor Savior program will also give Ben & Jerry's an idea of whether consumers are paying attention to package fine print.


"It'll also give us some insight into whether or not people who buy our ice cream are reading the print," said Chrystie Heimert, director of public relations at Ben & Jerry's. "There's a lot of information we include on the real estate -- everything from our message to our unbleached paperboard to [hormone-free] dairy.


"That's one of our biggest vehicles for communicating with our fans," Heimert said, "but this will tell us how many people sit there and read."


Ben & Jerry's communicates with consumers through its Chunk Mail electronic newsletter, which goes to 18,000 recipients; sponsored events and festivals; college tours; ties with nonprofits and environmental organizations; and notices on the 6-year-old site.


Consumer feedback has driven many of Ben & Jerry's initiatives. In fact, popular flavors such as Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey and Chubby Hubby were all born of suggestions from consumers.


The Peanut Turtles product will be one of three new ice creams in a limited batch planned for spring, summer and holidays this year. Stever would not disclose the other flavors but said the second product would debut in June and the third in November.


Consumers can check out a list of discarded flavors -- no longer on the shelves but open to a comeback -- at the Flavor Graveyard on www.benjerry.com, a site that attracts an average of 172,000 unique visitors a month.


"That kind of spurred the whole idea of Flavor Savior," Heimert said. "We get so much consumer e-mail and fan phone calls and letters from people who want us to bring back something that's in the Flavor Graveyard. This is just a way of pre-empting that."
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