Apr 18, 2013

My Ben & Jerry's Adventure - Day One

I recently got the chance to visit Ben & Jerry's headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, where I and a group of bloggers/journalists got a behind-the-scenes look at their Scoop University (where franchisees learn to run a scoop shop), their test kitchen (where they come up with those wonderful flavors), and the Ben & Jerry's factory.

On Day One, we got a tour of their headquarters in Burlington where they have one of those twisty slides, a nap room, a full gym with trainers available, and they can bring their dogs to work. Nice right? Of course, they'll need the gym as each Ben & Jerry's employee is allowed to take home up to three free pints of ice cream a day(!). Unfortunately, the company does not currently have any job openings...

As we settled down in the conference room, they told us a little bit about the company's history, their digital media strategy, social media strategy, their social mission, and other stuff you can find on their website.

More importantly, Jerry stopped by! He's the company's co-founder and one of the guys on the pint carton. They didn't know if he would show up or not since he and Ben apparently have no responsibilities or authority at the company and pretty much come and go as they please.

Particularly interesting to Ben & Jerry's situation is the fact that since 2000, the company has been owned by Unilever but maintains an independent board of directors in charge of maintaining the brand's values and equity. Among other things, the set up allows the brand to maintain their own sourcing of ingredients and relationship to suppliers, even though using Unilever's suppliers would be cheaper. This has allowed Ben & Jerry's to work closely with suppliers to make sure everyone gets a fair price throughout the supply chain (especially important to the farmers who grow a lot of the food).

Afterwards, we headed over to Scoop U, a Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop located inside their headquarters where they trains new franchisees. Here we got to try our hand at scooping ice cream and making waffle cones, as well as serving customers (Ben & Jerry employees). A few were disappointed that we were only scooping ice creams and not making shakes or sundaes, but due to time constraints, we hadn't been trained to do so.

Ah, the view from the other side of the counter.
Making the waffle cones was a pretty interesting experience. You have to pour a small circle of batter onto the waffle iron. Then, you close it and set a timer. Once the timer is up, you have to carefully, but quickly, pull the thin waffle off the iron and place it into a tool where you roll it up into a cone and press it close.

As you can see my waffle cone-making skills have yet to be perfected:

You have to eat your ice cream super-fast in this waffle cone...
Next, we had over to Ben & Jerry's test kitchen, where they come up with new flavors. Here, two of Ben & Jerry's Flavor Gurus (i.e. R&D team) showed us how they can quickly whip up a batch of ice cream like they would if they were testing (nothing was being tested on this day though).

Just like Iron Chef but without the duck/wasabi/bacon-flavored ice cream... at least not today...
Just a quick mix of ice cream base (from the factory) and vanilla and 10 minutes inside an ice cream maker gives you ice cream with a soft-serve texture. Perfect for mixing in whatever you like (there were only chocolaty chunks to mix in though)!

The test kitchen tour marked the end of Day One. Tune in tomorrow for Day Two!

Disclosure: Ben & Jerry's paid for my travel expenses, food, and hotel during the visit. I also sampled lots of free ice cream, mostly on Day Two.


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