If you’ve always wanted to see how ice cream is made, a trip to picturesque Waterbury, Vermont, offers many treats, especially at the Ben & Jerry’s factory.
During the 30-minute guided tour, visitors witness the manufacturing process and hear the story of two friends who revolutionized the decadent ice cream industry with their legendary approach to business.
You’ll learn the story of two Merrick classmates, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who were born at the same Brooklyn hospital four days apart, but met running track during gym in junior high, because as Ben put it “We were the two slowest, fattest kids in the class.” You’ll be inspired by their story and realize that anything is possible.
How It All Began
Ben dropped out of Colgate University after his sophomore year and then attended University Without Walls at Skidmore College, where he took courses in jewelry making and pottery. He tried to become a potter, but said that nobody wanted to buy his pottery so he worked as a taxi driver. With two failed attempts to get into med school after graduating from Oberlin College, Jerry worked as a lab technician.
Neither was happy with what they were doing, so they decided to start a business together. Having spent plenty of time hanging out and eating, they knew they wanted to do something with food, but priced out bagel-making equipment and realized it was too expensive.
The besties learned that it was less expensive to produce ice cream and split the cost of a $5 correspondence course in ice cream making from Penn State in 1978.
At 26, they liked the idea of living in a rural college town and since most of the warm towns already had homemade ice cream shops, they selected Burlington, Vermont, which didn’t have one. With a $12,000 investment, Ben and Jerry opened their first scoop shop in a renovated gas station in Burlington.
Ben’s anosmia—his inability to perceive odor—encouraged the incorporation of texture into their flavors, which lead to the signature use of chunks mixed into their ice cream.
Doing It Their Way
In 1979, Ben and Jerry celebrated the shop’s one-year anniversary—and the customers who made it possible—by holding the first-ever Free Cone Day with free scoops for all. The annual celebration continues today in scoop shops around the world.
The entrepreneurs have always shared their success by helping make their community—and the world—a better place. Their social mission compels them to use the company in innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally.
Ben & Jerry’s product mission continues to be making, distributing and selling “the finest-quality all-natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the earth and the environment.” In fact, in 2014 they completed their global conversion to Fairtrade-certified and only non-GMO ingredients by origin.
In 2000, the business was sold to Unilever for more than $325 million. The unique sale contained provisions allowing Ben & Jerry’s to maintain its existing social mission and brand identity.
Tailing their seventh-grade classmates during laps around the track in gym class, Ben and Jerry never could have imagined that their creation would evolve into more than 600 ice cream shops in 35 countries around the world with approximately half a billion dollars in sales—all while being socially conscious and making a global impact.
The tour, which costs $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and is free for children 12 and younger, ends with a sample scoop of the flavor of the day. After the tour, you can indulge at the scoop shop and visit a gift shop filled with silly T-shirts and ice cream accessories. Outside, the playground and Flavor Graveyard are set amidst mountaintop views.
(For a feature on local Long Island/New York City homemade ice cream shops, click here.)
Visit Ben & Jerry’s Waterbury Factory Tour at 1281 Waterbury-Stowe Road, Route 100, Waterbury, VT 05676; www.benjerry.com; 866-258-6877.