The milk that is used in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream comes from 10.000 cows from hundreds of local family farms. The milk from these farms goes to the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, based in St. Albans, Vermont. The Ben & Jerry’s factories based in the USA only work with the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery to provide the milk and cream. The two companies have a close relationship and interaction. Ben & Jerry’s pays a premium price for the milk and cream, and St.
Albans Cooperative Creamery only delivers products with an excellent quality. Ben & Jerry’s also supports the dairy farmers that deliver their milk to St. Albans Coop. When prices for dairy are very low, dairy farmers are often threatened by a financial crises. E.g. in 2003, when dairy farmers were desperate due to extremely low dairy prices.
But Ben & Jerry’s stepped up to the plate and created funds for emergency situations for many struggling dairy farmers.
At the Cooperative Creamery, the milk is separated into heavy cream and condensed skim milk. The cream and skim milk are then shipped by tanker trucks to the Ben & Jerry’s factories in St. Albans and Waterbury, both based in Vermont. Arriving at the factory, the milk and cream are pumped in four 6.000 gallons storage silos, at 2° Celsius. It waits there until it can be converted into Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
In the overall ice cream production scheme, making the basic ice mix is one of the most important part of the process.
A highly skilled and experienced person, the Mix Master, performs mix-maxing procedures in the Blend Tank. The Blend Tank is a 1000-gallons stainless steel mega-blender, which mixes all the ingredients for the basic ice mix together. The main ingredients are fresh heavy cream and condensed skim milk, from St. Albans Dairy Cooperative, egg yolks and liquid cane sugar. The Mix Master sometimes adds coco powder, for chocolate flavored ice cream. Finally, also natural stabilizers are added to the mix, to prevent heat shock and the formation of ice-crystals. All these ingredients are blenderized for about 6 to 8 minutes, resulting in either a white sweet cream mix or a chocolate mix.
Ben & Jerry’s buys their ingredients, like vanilla and cocoa, through socially aligned sourcing. This means that Ben & Jerry’s only buys from suppliers in whose values and goals Ben & Jerry’s believes in. So they don’t buy goods in the conventional way, by only looking at price. E.g. they source their cocoa from a farmers in Ghana, who are very committed to long-term sustainable agricultural techniques. They also buy from progressive demographic-run cooperatives in Indonesia, for a portion of the vanilla. The brownies for their ‘Chocolate Fudge Brownie’ ice cream are supplied by The Graceston Bakery since 1988. This bakery trains low-income people, and could even open new bakery to support better social services for the community. All thanks to the supplier relationship with Ben & Jerry’s.
After the basic ice cream mix is blended, it can be pasteurized and homogenized. Pasteurization is the process of heating the mix, in order to kill harmful bacteria. The pasteurizer is made up of a series of thin stainless steel plates. Hot 83°C water flows on one side of the plates, and 2°C cold mix is pumped through on the other side. Heat from water is transferred to the mix, heating it up to 82°C. Before it has a chance to cool down, the mix is put through the homogenizer. Here, the mix is forced under very high pressure (about 200 pounds per square inch) and is forced through a small opening. By doing this, the fat particles from the cream are so finely divided and emulsified that they don’t separate from the rest of the mix. The homogenizer works like a piston pump; the mix is drawn into the cylinder on the downstroke, and is forced out at a very high pressure on the upstroke. The ice cream mix comes out very smooth and with a uniform consistency.
Here, the basically unflavored ice cream mix gets flavored by a team of experts in the art of flavoring, that work the Flavor Vats. The Flavor Vats are a series of stainless steel vats that can each hold up to 500 gallons of ice cream mix. Ben & Jerry’s has an incredible range of flavorings, purees and extracts. Such as vanilla, pure peppermint, fruit extracts, banana puree and even special flavors from time to time. Developing a new flavor at Ben & Jerry’s is mostly a collaborate effort between Research & Development, Operations, Marketing and sometimes because of retail opportunities (feedback from the customers). There are a few ways in which a new flavor is born. Mostly, Research & Development creates a new flavor, and Marketing has to figure out an attractive name for it. Or once, Marketing have name to Research & Development, ‘Wavy Gravy’, who tried 159 times before they came up with the right flavor to go with the name ! Also consumers send in a lot of ideas for great names, like ‘Chunky Monkey’ and ‘Cherry Garcia’. It’s up to R&D to figure out the best flavor to go with those names.
Once the flavoring is added, the mix is pumped to the freezers. Ben & Jerry’s freezers use liquid ammonia as a freezing agent, at 40 degrees below zero. The freezers can freeze up to 700 gallons of ice cream mix per hour. The mix is pumped through a long and freezing cold cylinder, known as ‘the barrel’. The mix freezes to the wall of the barrel, and is then scraped away by revolving blades. When it gets to the front of the barrel, it’s no longer mix, but real ice cream ! The mix enters the freezer at 2°Celsius and leaves the freezer at -5.5° Celsius. This is the right temperature to create a soft-served ice-cream, known in Belgium as ‘softijs.
When Ben & Jerry’s started its business, it was normal to put chunks of fruit into ice cream. Many competing manufacturers did it, so Ben & Jerry’s followed. Since then, Ben & Jerry’s has experimented with adding lots of other chunks to their ice cream: chocolate chips, cookie dough, fudgy brownies, cookies, candies, nuts, pretzels, … and of course different kinds of fruit ! So, after freezing the ice cream, the production process of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream splits up into two possible directions. When making just ‘chunkless’ flavors like vanilla or chocolate ice cream, the ice cream is pumped directly to the pint filling machinery.
But when making ice cream flavors like ‘Chocolate Fudge Brownie’ (chocolate ice cream with small pieces of brownie, ‘Cookie Dough’ (vanilla ice cream with small chunks of cookie) or ‘Cherry Garcia’ (vanilla ice cream with cherry-pieces and chocolate chips), the ice cream takes a turn into the ‘Chunk Feeder Machine’. The ‘Chunk Feeder’ feeds chunks into the ice cream stream. Chunks are top loaded into the ‘Chunk Feeder Hopper’, at the bottom of which an auger regulates a steady chunk-flow into a star wheel. As the star wheel turns, it pushes the chunks into the stream of frozen ice cream flowing through the feeder . As a last step, the ice cream, with the chunks, goes through a special blender attachment. As a result, the ice cream is enriched with evenly dispersed chunks.
When you open a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, you immediately notice those thick stripes going through the ice cream. Those are the variegates, of ‘swirls’. Ben & Jerry’s adds these swirls of fudge, caramel, chocolate, peanut butter, marshmallow and fruit syrup to give an even richer taste to their ice cream. But swirling isn’t easy ! If you do it wrong, the syrup will sink to the bottom of the pint or be distributed unevenly. Ben & Jerry’s uses a variegate-guidance system they call the ‘Variegator’. First, the variegates must pass through the Contherm®. This is a machine, made by Tetra Pak, that lowers the temperature of the variegates just enough to prevent them from pooling. Pooling occurs when the variegates are too warm, and create a pool of syrup on the bottom of the pint. When the variegates have the right temperature, they pass through the ‘Variegator’. This machine essentially injects the variegates into the ice cream stream, creating the swirls.
Research & Development basically has no boundaries. They invent new flavors, use new ingredients, come up with new chunks and create new kinds of variegates on a weekly bases. But is it possible to put these new concoctions in a pint ? Can the production actually realize the idea that R&D has invented ? To find out if a new creation is feasible, the ‘Gearheads’ come into action. At Ben & Jerry’s , the ‘Gearheads’ are team of engineers who determine if a product can or cannot be realized. Is it possible to have four different kinds of variegates in one pint ? Are our machines capable to mix those two ingredients together ? How can we make an ice cream with two different kinds of chunks? They work together with R&D very closely, and find ways to implement their ideas into the actual production process.
Now that the ice cream is ready, it can be dispensed into pint containers. The pints are filled in the ‘Automated Filler Machine’, who can fill up to 120 containers a minute. It also performs pre-filling tasks, like dropping the containers two-by-two, and pushing them towards the filling head. After the pints are filled, they go to the ‘Lidder’ , who precisely positions and pushes a lid on every filled container. The ‘Lifter’ lifts the containers from the ‘Lidder’ and puts them on a conveyer belt. As a part of their social mission, taking care of the environment, Ben & Jerry’s removed the very harmful dioxides out of their packaging. Originally, their package was bleached with chlorine or chlorine-dioxide. So, together with their paper manufacturer and supplier, they searched to reduce and eliminate the use of chlorine and dioxides. Now, the packaging of Ben & Jerry’s is completely bleach-free, and is made of pure paper. That’s why, if you look inside the cup, the paper isn’t white but brown.
After the packaging, the ice cream still has a temperature around – 5,5° Celsius. Now that the product is finished, it has to reach a temperature of -23°C. This process is called ‘hardening’. Still on the conveyer belt, the filled pints travel from the production area into the ‘Spiral Hardening Tunnel’. This is two story, corkscrew-shaped conveyer. The temperature inside this tunnel is around 35°Celsius below zero. But big fans, that are blowing inside the tunnel, create a temperature that reaches around -50°Celsius ! The soft-frozen pints slowly travel up the corkscrew-conveyer, for about three hours. When they finally come out, they are in a fully frozen and solid state.
In the Quality Assurance Lab, a group of quality specialists constantly test pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream that they randomly pull out of the production line every hour. All the pints have to meet the strictest health- and quality standards. One of the things the quality professionals do to ensure the quality of the ice cream, are cut-ups. First, they take the lid of the pint and check if there are any visible irregularities to the ice cream. Next, they close the lid, put the pint upside down and cut the entire pint (ice cream and packaging) in half. They look at the distribution of the ice cream, the chunks and the variegates. Are the chunks evenly distributed ? Are there no air bubbles inside the ice cream ? Do the variegates have the right thickness ? Is the amount of chunks enough/too less/too much ? They compare all their findings with the standards that R&D has approved.
After the pints are frozen solid, and the quality has been checked extensively, they are wrapped for shipment. The pints are flipped upside down by an inverter, and a freezer worker ensures that eight pints, two parallel rows of four pints, are properly assembled and inverted to enter the ‘Bundler’. The ‘Bundler’ is a tunnel which shrink-wraps plastic around the bundle of eight pints. The bundled eight-pack is called a ‘sleeve’, and each ‘sleeve’ equals one gallon of ice cream. Freezer workers stack the sleeves on shipping pallets, that are also wrapped and then stored in the warehouse to await shipment, in a temperature around – 29° Celsius.
Throughout the entire production process, Ben & Jerry’s has 5 key areas of environmental impact: solid waste, recycle material, high-stream dairy waste, waste water and the amount of water B&J uses to make the product. Every year, Ben & Jerry’s establishes goals in these five waste areas, continuously finding ways to make B&J ice-cream that minimize the impact on the environment.
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is distributed worldwide. You can find Ben & Jerry’s in supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants and other ‘ice-cream-friendly venues. But Ben & Jerry’s also has its own ‘Scoop Shops’. These stores want to translate the vision and corporate image of Ben & Jerry’s directly to the customers. As an employee at a Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop, you often start as an ice cream scooper. But there are a lot of career opportunities for those who want to grow. Employees can evolve from a scooper to a Shift Leader, to an Assistant Manager and eventually to Manager. Every year, the Scoop Shops also have a ‘Free Cone Day’.
This is Ben & Jerry’s way to thank their customers by giving them a free cone of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. It’s a very busy day for the staff at the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops, e.g. last year they gave away 7000 ice creams in the Burlington Scoop Shop alone ! The ice cream is also distributed to partner shops. These are Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops that are owned and operated by a community-based non-profit organization. The organization runs the business as usual, but they also use the shop to carry out job- and entrepreneurial training for youth that has trouble finding employment.