Their iconic ice-cream pints have become a staple in our freezers, but Ben and Jerry’s was not always the household name it is today. The company had its humble beginnings in Burlington, Vermont where two friends opened their first ice-cream shop with just $12,000. With a range of unique ice-cream flavors, Ben and Jerry’s grew to become one of the most popular brands in the world. Here’s the story of how two guys changed American ice-cream forever.
The year was 1978 and two friends named Ben and Jerry set out on a dream to change the world. While the pair’s first venture was not in ice-cream, they stumbled upon it by accident when their bagel business idea didn’t work out.
During the ‘80s, the market for premium ice-cream was slowly taking shape and brands like Hagen Dazs dominated this sector. Ben and Jerry’s (although they didn’t know it then) were early adaptors in a market that would be worth billions of dollars years later.
While it’s hard to think of Ben and Jerry’s as anything but big, the two friends opened their first shop in an abandoned gas station that was converted into an ice-cream parlor. With a $5 ice-cream course certification to their name, the pair churned out some chunky flavors that would soon change ice-cream forever.
From the get-go, Ben and Jerry planned to create ice-creams that came with intense flavors. This was partly because Ben lacked a sense of smell and taste. When Jerry created a new flavor, he would only be able to judge its taste with his eyes closed. While this led to some not so great flavors, it was also the secret ingredient behind some of the brand’s most successful ice-creams.
Growing Ben and Jerry’s
When Ben and Jerry opened their first shop in Vermont, the pair focused on creating unique ice-cream flavors that played into America’s need for a premium brand while incorporating natural ingredients with plenty of fat.
Tapping into this market led to almost instant success for the brand which soon became a community favorite in Vermont. Ben and Jerry’s went on to expand their flagship store to other states like Tennessee, Colorado and Maryland. They also unveiled some of their signature flavors during this time like Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia.
Just 3 years after its inception, TIME Magazine famously called Ben and Jerry’s the “best ice-cream in the world.” The positive press was the starting point for the company as it went on to dominate the premium ice-cream market in the decades that followed. Today, the legendary brand operates 600 shops in 35 countries and records nearly $500 million in sales annually.
But that’s not to say that the company didn’t have its fair share of growing pains. Ben and Jerry faced lawsuits over distribution rights and had to compete with premium ice-cream pioneers like Hagen Dazs and Dreyer’s. Thankfully, the company’s 1-pint containers that were sold in grocery chains around the world kept the company a reigning success. The bright packaging and funky names are hard to miss in the ice-cream aisle.
Building a socially conscious brand
Ben and Jerry’s was built on the premise of a down-to-earth wholesome brand that embraced the butterfat element of ice-cream which gave it a rich, creamy texture. But although the two friends achieved incredible success with their ice-cream, their ultimate goal was to make the world a better place.
Since the birth of their first store in Vermont, Ben and Jerry incorporated the local community into their business with film festivals and gave away free ice-cream on the company’s anniversary (a tradition that continues till today). As the company grew, Ben and Jerry made it their mission to build a socially conscious brand. One that would take a stance on important issues while fighting for what’s right.
The company created the SEARS report on their website which outlines their three-year plan to support activism and social justice at the grassroots level. Through this initiative, the brand created campaigns such as Pecan Resist and Justice Remix’d.
Ben and Jerry’s has also committed to reducing dairy and solid waste while also preserving energy and recycling materials at its factories. The founders have also taken a strong stance on climate justice and actively worked to reduce their own environmental externalities.
Fighting against climate change isn’t just about raising awareness but it’s also about doing your part to make the world a safer place- this is something that Ben and Jerry have embodied in their brand’s mission.
The legendary ice-cream brand may be known for its wild flavors but Ben and Jerry’s is so much more than that. From a small ice-cream shop in Burlington, Vermont, the company grew to become a worldwide sensation. Two friends in Vermont that set out to make chunky, butterfat ice-cream ultimately used it as a tool to make the world a better place.