As the Heavens slowly parted and the sun shone down upon the rolling hills of green, our legendary pints descended from their cosmic existence fully formed in a cocoon of glory, reverently floating down from a cloud and landing gently onto the pasture, welcomed by rapturous fans and orchestral hymns.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this is how our most iconic flavours came into being, by some divine celestial event, cherubs playing harps and spoons dancing euphorically across the skies. It isn’t, but these deities of dairy do have their own pretty nifty real life stories. Harps aren’t involved, but happy spoons are.
Item number 1
Cookie Dough: From Anonymity to Greatness
Way back in the early days of our first Scoop Shop in Burlington, Vermont, we had a bulletin board where people could suggest new flavors for Jerry and Ben to make. As the ideas flowed in, an anonymous flavor idea stood out. It seems like such a no-brainer now, but back then it was revolutionary…What if you put big chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough into vanilla ice cream?
The folks at the Scoop Shop went to work mixing up a batch of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and it was an instant hit. The flavor was initially available only at the Burlington, Vermont Scoop Shop and fans began coming from all over to get their hands on it. One of our employees remembers seeing a group of students from the University of Vermont visit the Burlington Scoop Shop, only to find that they were out of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. The students ended up going to the grocery store across the street and purchasing a roll of slice-and-bake cookie dough. They brought it back, ordered vanilla ice cream, cut up the roll and stirred it in.
In 1991, we introduced Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough in a pint, and boy, are we glad we did. It has remained one of our most popular and beloved flavors ever since!
Item number 2
Cherry Garcia: Adventures in Fan Persistence
Back in the olden days, before cell phones and web sites and tweeting for ice cream, our fans spoke to us via hand written notes pinned to the bulletin boards in our scoop shops. Some left letters, others bestowed doodles, and the passionate few shared suggestions for brand new flavors. We liked that last group a lot. Without them, we may never have introduced one of our most popular flavors of all time—Cherry Garcia.
Sometime in 1986, a fan up in Maine left the idea for Cherry Garcia on a board in her local scoop shop. The employees either missed it or dismissed it, because the flavor suggestion never made its way to Vermont. Luckily our fan was persistent. She followed up with a postcard to our main office in Burlington:Dear Ben & Jerry’s:We’re great fans of the Grateful Dead and we’re great fans of your ice cream. Why don’t you make a cherry flavor and call it Cherry Garcia? You know it will sell because Dead paraphernalia always sells. We are talking good business sense here, plus it will be a real hoot for the fans.
A flavor celebrating Jerry Garcia? What a perfect idea! We got to work right away—both on developing the flavor and trying to track down our anonymous flavor suggestor.
While our ice cream detectives began their hunt, Ben led the team of Flavor Gurus in creating a pint good enough to bear Jerry’s name. The original idea was to duplicate the flavor of cherry-covered cordials. It tasted good, but we wanted great. After more tinkering and toying and trial by freezer, the team decided to go with whole bing cherries and smaller than usual chocolate chunks in vanilla ice cream – just a pinch different from today’s Cherry Garcia, which features cherry ice cream instead of vanilla.
The flavor made its debut on February 15, 1987. The chill of winter and nip in the air were not enough to put a damper on our fans’ enthusiasm. Cherry Garcia quickly became one of our 3 most popular flavors. We sent the first 8 pints we made straight to Mr. Garcia himself, and Jerry’s wife and publicist even called to say that he gave it the thumbs up!
Some months after the launch, Ben and Jerry were sitting up in Burlington going through the week’s collection of fan mail. They opened one envelope and a Cherry Garcia pint lid fell out. A closer look revealed a note scribbled in familiar handwriting. “I’m glad you made the flavor,” it said. It was signed by Jane Williamson, and the handwriting matched the anonymous postcard that sparked their creativity.
Wheels were set into motion, Jane was found and contacted, and she was invited to our next shareholders’ meeting as the guest of honor. She received a standing ovation along with a year’s supply of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Addressing shareholders, she said, “I can’t think of a better company I would like to have sponsor something I thought of.”
It’s been a long, strange trip since we received that anonymous postcard way back in 1986. A lot has changed with our company and with the world, but two things have remained exactly the same: Jerry Garcia’s music brings happiness into our lives, and Cherry Garcia holds its spot as one of the greatest ice cream flavors around.
Item number 3
Phish Food: Two Men, A Band and a Marshmallow Plan
When Ben & Jerry approached Phish to license the band name for an ice cream flavour in 1996, the band’s initial response was “no, thank you” respecting a pact they had made early on not to license their name to anyone but a record label. At the same time, the band members were talking about how to consolidate and focus their corporate giving which, until then, had been as impromptu as their live setlists. All the suggestions shared a focus on children’s and environmental causes in the state of Vermont. As talks continued, they learned that Ben and Jerry had a similar charitable vision, and they were also willing to collaborate directly with the band to develop a flavour that would help bring the band’s charitable efforts to a new level.
Ben & Jerry had found common ground with the visionary band. They eventually agreed to create a flavour, with the final development being Phish’s suggestion to make the now infamous marshmallow more “marshmallow-y.” Our flavour gurus made that marshmallow-y magic happen and Phish Food was born!
The flavour became hugely popular and the rest is now ice cream history, with Phish Food consistently a top seller in pints and scoops sold worldwide. As Ben said about the special partnership, “the work between the band and Ben & Jerry’s was one of mutual respect and a real spiritual connection.” O-phish-ally a match made in ice cream Heaven.
Item number 4
Chocolate Fudge Brownie: The Sticky Story of Chocolate Serendipity
Way back when, before there was Chocolate Fudge Brownie, we were making brownie ice cream sandwiches for sale in grocery stores. Sometimes there would be broken pieces in the brownie delivery, and we’d nab them for flavor experiments. What would brownie pieces taste like in chocolate ice cream? “Pretty good, as it turns out,” recalls Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Guru and “Primal Ice Cream Therapist,” Peter Lind. That original experimental flavor eventually became the legendary ice cream concoction known as Chocolate Fudge Brownie.
Meanwhile, Ben Cohen had met Bernie Glassman, the founder of Yonkers-based social enterprise Greyston Bakery. Greyston’s open-door hiring policy made the business a perfect pairing to Ben & Jerry’s passion for linked prosperity: the concept that what’s good for our employees and suppliers is also good for business. Equally important, their brownies were just so darn good— after sampling some, Ben handwrote a note asking for two truckloads of brownie pieces.
It took Greyston bakers 2 months to hand-cut the bites from each sheet of brownies, and fill up the two freezer truckloads that Ben had ordered. Up in Vermont, Lind had organized an event on the factory floor to showcase the production of the new flavor. But on the big day, the bites were still frozen solid to each other. “One huge 25-pound brownie fell into the Chunk Feeder— we had to hire 5 new employees and equip them with stainless steel hatchets to break up the pieces.”
Of course, every innovation is likely to have some kinks that need to be worked out. In fact, if it goes too easy, maybe the idea isn’t radical enough. “We probably made about 25 batches of brownies,” recalls Lind, “before we had the right combination of flavor, resistance to crumbling when cut, and chewiness in ice cream over time.” Within six months, the new flavor was debuting in Scoop Shops and freezer shelves all over.
What started as an exciting, and ultimately delicious, riddle to solve has become the stuff of legends for both Ben & Jerry’s and Greyston. It’s a funny story that just goes to show how far both our businesses have come. Twenty-five years later, we still get all our brownies from Greyston, whose own success has made them a social enterprise leader. But really, the proof is in the pint. Chocolate Fudge Brownie is, and remains, one of the most beloved flavors we’ve ever made.
Item number 5
Half Baked: A Tale of Two Flavours
Half Baked was born of delicious parentage. Made up of two popular flavors (Chocolate Fudge Brownie + Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough) swirled together, the result is a flavor that takes ice cream euphoria to a whole new level.
Half Baked got its name from the fact that the cookie dough in it is unbaked – hence 'dough' – but the fudge brownies are baked. It's literally half baked! (Now you can confidently correct your friends who were convinced it was a reference to a certain movie of the same name.)
Its become so popular that its been our #1 selling flavor in the US for the past two years, and hovered close to the top of the list for years before that. It even has its own commercial! Released in 2006, the 15-second claymation commercial for Half Baked features clay Ben and clay Jerry bantering, as they often do, about how to change the world for the better. Check it out here!
Item number 6
Karamel Sutra: Girl Meets Caramel
In 2001, New York Times reporter Abby Ellin visited Ben & Jerry’s HQ in Burlington, VT for a ‘familiarization tour’ with several other journalists. One special item on the agenda was a meeting with the Flavor Gurus in our R&D lab for some hands-on flavor development. Each reporter worked with a Guru to invent their very own flavor. And although the recipe for Abby’s flavor was never committed to memory, her unforgettable flavor name certainly stuck: Karamel Sutra®!
With Abby’s permission, Karamel Sutra® joined our special collection of 2002 Core Concoction™ flavors. With its velvety core of soft caramel encircled by chocolate & caramel ice creams with fudge chips, this stuff was made for pint-tunnelers everywhere. So whether you dig straight down the core or mix a bit of everything in each bite, tip your spoon to Abby and our Flavor Gurus as you savor this sultry blend.
So there you have it, the inside scoop behind these icons of ice, these titans of taste. One slight turn of events and they might have never come into existence. Which is a horrifying reality we don’t want to imagine, and luckily for all of us spoon holding ice cream devotees, we’ll never have to!