4 Strategies That Ben & Jerry’s, Used to Turn $5 into $910 Million

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, childhood friends, founded Ben & Jerry's in 1978 in Burlington, Vermont. BUT Did you know that one of the founders, Cohen had a severe case of lack of smell and that was a prime reason they made their ice creams textured, as that is the only way he understood flavours.

Young Ben & Jerry

It all started with a $5 ice cream-making course that they attended and, later developed their idea into a $12,000 ice cream shop.

This first ice cream shop was opened in a Vermont gas station, they marked their anniversary in 1979, by holding the first “free cone day”, this became an annual event at every Ben & Jerry’s store, from that year to 2019

ben & Jerry's Factory

Ben and Jerry’s opened their first factory in 1985, producing up to 350,000 pints of ice cream per day.

To connect with the community in a much deeper way, they took a Willy Wonka approach and opened this factory to the public in 1986 and is still open for tours and informational walk-throughs, located in Waterbury, Vermont.

In the same year, they founded the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation to fund community-oriented projects, with a generous funding of 7.5% of the company’s annual pre-tax profits at the time.

The Famous Ben & Jerry Cow-mobile

Ben & Jerry’s have faced their fair share of challenges, pretty early on in their journey,

  1. In 1984 itself, Häagen-Dazs wanted to limit the distribution of Ben & Jerry’s in large cities, but Ben & Jerry didn’t back down and filed a suit against the parent company, Pilsbury in a unique “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of?” campaign.
  2. In 1987, Häagen-Dazs again tried to enforce exclusive distribution, and Ben & Jerry’s filed a second lawsuit against the Pillsbury Company.

These challenges only made them stronger and in 1986, Ben & Jerry’s launched its “Cowmobile”, a modified mobile home that was used to distribute free scoops of their ice cream in a unique, cross-country “marketing drive”, driven and served by Ben and Jerry themselves.

Ben & Jerry’s conviction in the brand, was also reflected in how they grew their franchise count; selecting only those partners for franchisees who shared their core values and had the same concern for humanity and social causes at large.

4 strategies that made this homegrown brand a massive success:

  1. Brand Loyalty within the local communities: Ben & Jerry’s built a strong brand identity by combining quality products with a commitment to social responsibility. The company actively engaged with communities, often sourcing ingredients from local suppliers and supporting local causes.
  2. RightExpansion: They expanded through a franchising model, but were always very careful of the franchise partners, to determine if they believed in the same mission as them. This also stayed true when they pushed for eco-friendly packaging and healthier food ingredients across all their franchisees.
  3. Partnerships: Collaborations with environmental and social groups, rock stars, and late-night hosts, definitely helped boost their image and reach.
  4. Reinvention: Ben & Jerry’s consistently introduced imaginative and whimsically named flavors, often tapping into popular culture, trends, or social causes. Examples include “Cherry Garcia,” “Phish Food,” and “Americone Dream.”
The company went public, in 1984 and by the late 1980s, Ben & Jerry’s annual sales had already reached around $32 million.

By 1999, the company's annual sales were approximately $237 million, before it decided to sell to Unilever.

Following the acquisition, both founders remained employed at the company, though not in a position of operational or managerial responsibility and only Cohen remained on the governing board of directors. Fun Trivia - Sweet Potato Pie Flavor has been voted as the weirdest Flavor of the Ice cream brand, throughout all its locations

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