Yves Couette, CEO of small-town ice-cream company Ben & Jerry’s, is struggling with the dichotomy of maintaining the product in a niche market while simultaneously battling to become one of the largest, most powerful brands in the US.

Ben & Jerry’s was sold to Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant Unilever for US$326m nine months ago, and at the time faced criticism from those who wanted the company with the social conscience to stay out of powerful corporate circles.

Couette admitted to the Daily Telegraph: “When I saw that Unilever was in the process of buying Ben & Jerry’s, my first reaction was, they are out of their minds. I thought Unilever would destroy the brand.” Importantly, Couette is anxious to avoid comparisons with the more mainstream ice cream giant Häagen-Dazs.

“My problem is, how do we grow and still be seen as a small business from Vermont?” Couette asked, revealing that Ben & Jerry’s is a US$1bn brand, with sales of US$250m and current growth of 7% a year. More over, the ice cream is an expensive choice, and its typical consumer is white and well educated.

The difficulty of the brand is in the marketing; rather than invest in traditional advertising, Ben & Jerry’s orchestrates “guerrilla” marketing events and sponsorship choices as it tries to maintain a niche appeal. Couette says that he aims to keep Unilever executives “on the edge of their comfort zone” as he works with the ice cream’s image.

The hazy aspect of Couette’s plan for Ben & Jerry’s is that of its policy for charity donations. The company’s founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have always been committed a policy of giving 7.5% of its profits to charity. Since Unilever’s takeover a more complex formula has been introduced in a bid to fund so-called “caring capitalism”; this guarantees at least US$1.1m for deserving causes every year.