Ice cream is a sweet treat that few can resist. There is a seemingly endless number of varieties that we love. Ben & Jerry’s is an American brand synonymous with funky flavors like Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were childhood friends. Cohen and Greenfield initially weren’t planning to become major leaders in super premium ice cream. But Cohen wasn’t having much luck selling his pottery and Greenfield had been rejected by medical schools, so they agreed to open some kind of store together. They decided to open an ice cream shop in Burlington, Vermont because it was a college town without an ice cream parlor. With a $5 correspondence course in ice cream-making from Penn State and a $12,000 investment, Ben and Jerry open their first ice cream scoop shop in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont in 1978. From the start they were focused on intensely flavored, chunky and creative ice creams, because, Ben had a condition called anosmia that made it hard for him to smell.
In 1979, Ben and Jerry celebrated the shop’s first anniversary by holding the first-ever Free Cone Day: free scoops for all, all day long. The annual ice cream give-away continues today in scoop shops around the world. As the news of Ben and Jerry’s spreads, more and more people wanted a lick. So the first franchised scoop shop opened in Shelburne, Vermont in 1981.
In 1983, the company opened its first non-Vermont franchise in Maine and signed a deal with a Boston distribution company. Signature flavors were unveiled throughout the 1980s—including New York Super Fudge Chunk and Cherry Garcia. By 1987, sales were at $32 million. By year’s end 1988, with the company operating shops in 18 US states, Ben and Jerry earned the distinctive award for U.S. Small Business Persons of the Year.
One reason for the quick popularity of Ben and Jerry’s was its unique flavor combinations. All new flavors were invented by Jerry. Some 1980s flagship flavors include Chunky Monkey, Rain forest Crunch, and Economic Crunch, scoops of which Ben & Jerry’s served up for free on Wall Street following the stock market crash of Oct. 19, 1987.
In 1994, they expanded to the UK. On August 3, 2000, the international food giant Unilever purchased the Ben & Jerry’s brand for $326 million. Through a unique acquisition agreement, an independent Board of Directors was created to provide leadership focused on preserving and expanding Ben & Jerry’s social mission, brand integrity, and product quality.
Ben & Jerry’s were always socially conscious, which had been a trademark of the brand since its inception. In 2005, to protest proposed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, they constructed a 900-pound Baked Alaska with their Fossil Fuel ice cream. They only use hormone-free milk in their products and never used genetically modified ingredients. It ’s been more than 40 years since Ben and Jerry opened their homemade ice cream parlor and the company still impresses the world with its small town charm.