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Dairy-free Chunky Monkey? Ben & Jerry's goes vegan. (+video)

Ben & Jerry's will introduce vegan versions of two popular flavors, along with two entirely new flavors. The move comes as consumers worldwide are choosing to  eat fewer animal products, for many reasons.

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    A couple pose with their ice creams on the sea front at Weston Super Mare in south-west England, Britain (August 20, 2015). Ben & Jerry's recently introduced vegan versions of four of its most popular flavors.
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Ben & Jerry’s has finally joined the vegan crowd.

The Vermont-based ice cream company is releasing vegan versions of two of its most popular flavors: Chunky Monkey and Chocolate Fudge Brownie. It is also introducing two new ones: Coffee Caramel Fudge and P.B. & Cookies. The company says it plans on introducing other flavors to the product line later on.

The new flavors are made with almond milk instead of regular milk, and so technically will be called “frozen desserts” - to qualify as "ice cream," it must contain a certain amount of milkfat. Ben & Jerry’s has been developing its vegan flavors for the past three years, but says that coming up with the right taste and flavor consistency proved difficult.

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"Creating these flavors with a non-dairy base composition that meets the high expectations of Ben & Jerry's consumers was quite a challenge," Ben & Jerry's flavor guru Kirsten Schimoler told CNNMoney.

Ben & Jerry’s worked with Vegan Action in order to certify that the ice cream products are indeed completely vegan, which means that they don’t contain any animal products like milk or eggs. The brownies in the vegan version of Chocolate Fudge Brownie are also certified vegan, and come from Greystone Bakery in New York City, which Ben & Jerry’s has worked with since the late 1980s.

The new flavors come as vegan and vegetarian diets are growing in popularity. According to a 2014 study from the Vegetarian Resource Group, the number of vegans in the US has doubled since 2009. Satistics show that there are now approximately 1 million vegans in the US, and 79 percent of them are women.  Approximately 42 percent choose to become vegan after seeing an educational movie or documentary on the subject.

The United Nations suggests that following a plant-based diet is better for the environment than eating meat. But people choose to become vegan for a wider variety of  other reasons, whether it’s because of animal rights issues, a simple desire to eat more nutritiously, or simply a preference for alternative products to meat and dairy, like almond milk. 

Overall, Americans are choosing to eat less meat, regardless of whether they are pursuing vegetarianism, veganism, or simply choosing to eat fewer burgers. In the last ten years, per capita consumption of red meat has fallen by 15 percent, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The meat industry is correspondingly raising fewer animals to be killed for consumption: 9.1 billion animals were raised for consumption in 2014, down from 9.5 billion in 2007.

Veganism is also rising in popularity abroad. It is recognized as a "valid diet" by the British Dietic Association, and is protected as a human right in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, which provides for freedom of thought and expression. Approximately 1 percent of the British population follows either a partial or fully vegan diet, according to statistics from the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom.

Ben & Jerry's, meanwhile, has always been conscientious of the social and political winds swirling around its ice cream (or "frozen desserts"). The company has long advocated against artificial growth hormones in milk, and in 2014 it switched its products to contain entirely GMO-free ingredients. Th company's founders support Vermonter Bernie Sanders for president, and co-founder Ben Cohen even dreamed up an unofficial Bernie-themed flavor in his honor. "Bernie's yearning," would be a mint ice cream with a chocolate chip shell covering the top.

"The giant chip on the top represents all the wealth that's gone to the top 1 percent of the population over the last 10 years," Mr. Cohen told CNN in October. "And the way you eat it is, you whack it with your spoon and then you mix it around." 

"Bernie's yearning" is not available in stores. 

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