You know which flavor of Ben & Jerry's ice cream is your favorite, and whether you prefer to eat it from a bowl or straight out of the pint. But there’s probably a lot you don’t know about the company that turned Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey into household names. Here are 15 things you might not know about Ben & Jerry’s.
1. THE COMPANY WAS LAUNCHED WITH A $5 CORRESPONDENCE COURSE.
Considering the popularity of Ben & Jerry’s products worldwide, it’s hard to believe that co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started the business by spending a mere $5 on a correspondence course in ice cream-making from Penn State. From there, they pooled $8000—and borrowed another $4000—to open their first ice cream shop, in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont.
2. CO-FOUNDER BEN COHEN HAS NO SENSE OF SMELL.
Cohen—the "Ben" in Ben & Jerry’s—suffers from anosmia, meaning that he has almost no sense of smell. It’s for that very reason that Ben & Jerry’s flavors are so rich. If he couldn’t taste a recipe, he’d just add more flavoring.
3. EMPLOYEES GET A PINT ALLOTMENT.
Working at Ben & Jerry’s corporate headquarters in South Burlington, Vermont has its perks—like a take-home allowance of three pints of ice cream per day! Fortunately, the office also has a fully equipped gym. They also have a yoga instructor and an occasional massage therapist. (No wonder they also need a nap room.)
4. MOST FLAVORS START WITH THE SAME BASE.
The base for most of Ben & Jerry's flavors is the same: a mix of milk, cream, liquid sugar, egg yolks, and water. But there are a couple of variations that have different fat and sugar levels. Choosing which to start with depends on what’s going to be added in. If a recipe calls for something high fat, like peanut butter, it starts with a lower fat base. "If you’re at too high a fat level, once you freeze it, you’re going to end up with concrete; it’s not going to come out of the machine," former Flavor Guru Kirsten Schimoler told Mental Floss. "If they’re adding something sweet, like caramel, they use one with lower sugar."
5. IT CAN TAKE MORE THAN A YEAR TO DEVELOP A NEW FLAVOR.
While it might seem like new flavors of Ben & Jerry’s are popping up in the freezer of your local grocery store all the time, each new flavor goes through a rigorous process before being launched to the public. According to one of the company’s Flavor Gurus, the average development cycle of a new pint is about 12 to 14 months.
6. SCHWEDDY BALLS, ON THE OTHER HAND, WAS DEVELOPED IN RECORD TIME.
While, in general, it can take a year or more for a new Ben & Jerry's flavor to go from concept to grocery store freezers, Schweddy Balls—a flavor inspired by Alec Baldwin's classic Saturday Night Live holiday skit—made it to market in a record four months when it was released for the 2011 holiday season. Unfortunately, the flavor—vanilla ice cream with a bit of rum and fudge-covered rum and malt balls—has since been retired.
7. YOU CAN PAY TRIBUTE TO YOUR FAVORITE DEARLY DEPARTED FLAVORS AT BEN & JERRY’S FLAVOR GRAVEYARD.
Speaking of discontinued flavors: True devotees of the beloved B&J brand can pay a visit to the company’s Flavor Graveyard at their factory in Waterbury, Vermont. Yes, it’s an actual graveyard where dozens of now-discontinued flavors, which they refer to as the "dearly depinted," have their very own headstones with clever epitaphs. Sugar Plum’s, for example, states that: "It swirled in our heads, it danced in our dreams, it proved not to be though, the best of ice creams."
8. THE FLAVOR GRAVEYARD HAS A COUPLE OF ZOMBIES.
Just because a flavor is dead and buried in the Flavor Graveyard doesn't mean it can’t come back to life. After a decade of strong sales, Ben & Jerry’s reluctantly had to retire White Russian in 1996, but not because it wasn't popular. The cost of the Kahlua-like flavoring that was used in its production became too prohibitive. But the customers spoke and White Russian was eventually resurrected, but only in Scoop Shops (sorry grocery store customers).
9. SOMETIMES THE NAME DICTATES THE FLAVOR.
It doesn't happen often, but on a few occasions, the company has come up with a new flavor name before developing the flavor itself. This is what happened with Liz Lemon Greek Frozen Yogurt, based on Tina Fey's 30 Rock character. "They knew they wanted to do a Liz Lemon flavor but didn't know what they wanted it to be," Schimoler said. "We looked at so many different lemon flavors."
10. EACH YEAR, THE FLAVOR GURUS MAKE A PILGRIMAGE TO A FORWARD-THINKING FOOD CITY.
In order to stay ahead of the flavor curve, they’ll spend 12 hours a day tasting offerings from food venues of all types, hitting as many as 10 spots a day. The inspiration for the aforementioned Liz Lemon Greek Frozen Yogurt? A blueberry-lavender cocktail in San Francisco.
11. CUSTOMERS PLAY A VITAL ROLE IN DECIDING NEW FLAVORS.
Each year, the company receives about 13,000 suggestions for new flavors from beloved pint-devourers the world over. The team reviews each and every submission for consideration and to look for recurring themes or flavor suggestions, which can be invaluable in developing new crave-worthy pints. Some of the company's most iconic flavors were born from customer feedback, including Cherry Garcia, which was suggested by two Deadheads from Portland, Maine. The flavor spent more than a decade at the top of the list of favorite flavors.
12. NOT EVERY FLAVOR CAN BE FOUND IN YOUR LOCAL GROCERY STORE.
Not every flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream comes in a pint or is available at your local grocery store. The company regularly creates flavors exclusively for a single retailer or specific to one geographic location (Canada, for example, has If I Had 1,000,000 Flavours, a multiflavored ice cream that the company created in collaboration with Barenaked Ladies). The Scoop Shops carry exclusive flavors, too—like Maccha Made in Heaven (Maccha green tea ice cream with caramelized pecans), which is popular in Tokyo.
13. THERE'S ONE INGREDIENT THAT WILL NEVER MAKE IT INTO A PINT.
Though bacon is among among one of the most requested items that customers have for the Ben & Jerry's team, it won’t be making its way into a pint near you. The reason? Ben & Jerry's plants are kosher.
14. KALE ICE CREAM WON'T BE HAPPENING EITHER.
The company has a long list of regular vendors for things like chocolate and caramel, but there's an even longer list of snack peddlers hoping to sell their ingredients in a pint of ice cream, including one very persistent proponent of kale chips. Though the R&D team did attempt to implement the healthful ingredient into a batch of ice cream, the flavor gurus don't imagine that it would be a hot seller, noting that, "No one wants to sit down with a pint of Kale Ben & Jerry's."
15. BEN & JERRY'S ALSO COMES IN BEER FORM.
For ice cream lovers who prefer to guzzle the sweet stuff, Ben & Jerry's has regularly collaborated with Colorado's New Belgium Brewing to create beers that replicate the ice cream’s delicious flavors. The partnership kicked off in 2015 with a Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale, and last fall they came up with a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale.