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Ben & Jerry refer to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, perhaps the ultimate ice cream entrepreneurs. After studying ice cream making in 1977, the two friends, pals since their meeting in a 7th grade gym class, launched their first ice cream shop in Vermont in 1978. What began as one ice cream parlor, soon grew to an ice cream making empire, now known officially as Ben & Jerry's Homemade Holdings, Inc., and no longer owned by its founders. People will find Ben & Jerry ice cream in most grocery stores in the US, and in several other countries such as Aruba, the UK, Canada, Belgium, Mexico and France.
Both Ben & Jerry could be aptly described as former hippies. As such, their company mission reflected some of the values of that very large counter culture movement. In particular, the company strove to create work environments where employees were treated decently and paid fairly, where products for their ice creams were mostly chosen based on commitment to sustainable agriculture and local farms, and where the company and its related foundation showed deep respect for all people on the globe, but most especially to parents and children.
This ice cream activism as it might be termed resulted in an extremely profitable business, where part of the profits through stock were funneled back into the Ben & Jerry's Foundation, created in 1985, which gives small grants to non profit organizations dedicated to contributing to positive social change. For most people, however, Ben & Jerry are much better known for their specialty ice cream, because so many consider it rich and delicious. In fact the success of their foundation hinges on the success of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
Ben & Jerry are especially known for not only using milk and cream from Vermont cows not treated with bovine stimulating hormone (BST) in their ice cream mixes, but also for creating and blending flavors. Early flavors at the first scoop shop included ice cream basics like vanilla. Later on the pair began experimenting with adding various things to different flavors of ice cream, like nuts, brownies, whole pieces of fruit, and even candy bars. The company grew quickly, due to ice cream quality and unusual flavors, and by the early 1980s, the pair had franchises outside of Vermont, and had purchased a large manufacturing plant so they could meet distribution demands to grocery stores.
The path to ice cream domination wasn't always smooth, though Ben & Jerry's approach to selling ice cream varied in many ways. For instance, they often marketed their ice cream by selling it out of a VW wagon, and their commitment to improving society via their foundation was marketing genius, since people could feel good about consuming and paying a little more for ice cream. The early 1980s were marked by several legal disputes with Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream, a strong competitor in the specialty ice cream market. Haagen-Dazs tried to limit distribution of Ben & Jerry's ice cream in stores, resulting in two lawsuits against Haagen-Dazs, which ultimately were successful.
Moreover, as different flavors developed, many became in high demand, and a few remain classic Ben & Jerry offerings. Cherry Garcia (named after musician Jerry Garcia) is a mix of cherry ice cream, cherries, and mini chocolate chips. Other flavors that were developed early and remain extremely popular include New York Super Fudge Chunk, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Coffee Heath Bar Crunch and Chubby Hubby. From time to time certain flavors are "retired" while new ones are introduced. The company's website has a "graveyard" for retired flavors, and request forms if people miss their favorite retired flavor.
In 2000, Unilever purchased Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, though the founders are still involved in some aspects of the company. Neither Ben nor Jerry have official titles with the company anymore. Instead both founders have used their fame to influence a variety of political, social and environmental movements.