Friday, March 30, 2012

Ben and Jerry's (Part IV)

Ok, this is silly but I am frustrated at Blogger because I can't put an ampersand in my title. I know it's not Ben and Jerry's, but I can't write Ben & Jerry's. Whew. Glad that's out of my system...

On that note, let's get back to my trip to Ben & Jerry's.

First, I need to mention something I forgot to in our previous post...we were graciously hosted for our visit by the small-but-mighty-team-of-two PR Department: Sean (officially known as "The Grand Poobah of Public Relations") and Liz, as well as Kevin from Cone in Boston, who also does some of their PR. This little side bar is not only a shout out and a thank you, but also an introduction so when I mention them below, you'll know who I am talking about.

When we returned back to the headquarters in Burlington, we still had a packed day ahead of us.

Lunch with the C.E.O.

We were joined for lunch in a conference room with Jostein Solheim, the CEO of Ben & Jerry's. Though our lunch with Solheim was brief, my impression of him was a good one. Here is another member of the B&J's team who also seems to love what he does. He has a great passion for the company, its mission, its employees, the product...Solheim seemed to be a genuinely good, down-to-earth guy. He also seemed to be happy to be working for what he believes is a really great company and he gave a great example of how the culture at B&J's really does go above and beyond their social mission on paper (see below).

Image courtesy of Ben & Jerry's

He told a story of when Vermont flooded after Hurricane Irene. He came into work expecting to tell people that if they could help, they should be in the field helping the community recover. When he arrived, many people weren't even in. They were already doing just that. They didn't need to be told. I loved this story.

Meeting with Solheim along with input from Sean (I know PR is his job, but really, I do believe he was a very honest PR guy!) made me feel better about the Ben & Jerry's acquisition by Unilever a couple of years ago. It really is the case that Unilever is the Economic arm, but the rest of B&J's (the Social and the Product) really are controlled by the smaller company of B&J's in which they really have been able to retain the values that the company was built upon.

To Market, To Market...

After lunch we met with the Marketing team. Having worked in a marketing department or two (one being with with Tina, as a matter of fact!) this was quite interesting to me.

The team (Jody, Jay, and Mike) told us about some fun marketing promos they do. I love how they incorporate social media into their marketing with some super creative ideas, like the Scoop Truck. It's not hitting the streets quite yet, but we'll let you know when it is so you can tweet to have it come to your office.

Jay also told us about how they market social causes Ben & Jerry's is behind. Currently they are supporting Get the Dough Out.

Side note, I just found out that Ben & Jerry's has a blog (which I will use to link to quite a bit in this post). Where have I been? Under a tombstone in the flavor graveyard?!


I know, it kind of sounds like I'm swearing at you or something. Oh, scoop you! But really, I'm not! Read on to find more out about ScoopU!

After lunch we went to ScoopU, headed by Amanda. After donning our hats and our aprons, she taught us how to make the perfect 3-oz scoop. Lindsay (who told us she was not hired by another -- unnamed -- ice cream chain years ago) was spot on with the 3-ouncer but the rest of us were a little off the first time. We all redeemed ourselves when we had to scoop into cones. All the while we got to test and test and test. As I was the only ice cream blogger, I think I tried the most, which made me seem a bit piggy, but I mean, as long as we used a new spoon each time (no double dipping!) we could try as many flavors as we wanted. Hea-ven! I found my new favorite -- Chocolate Nougat Crunch -- and tried the new Greek Frozen Yogurt flavors that were also quite good.

We made some waffle cones and bowls, and I want to get a waffle cone iron and a contraption to make waffle bowls. Man, do I LOVE the waffle cone smell that makes B&J's Scoop Shops smell the way they do.

When Amanda thought we had gotten good enough, she and Liz thought it would be a good idea to open up the scoop shop to the employees at headquarters. Oh. My. Goodness. I was not ready for this. But everyone was very nice and no one ordered anything too fancy. We had a broken cone mishap but our teammates Roberto and Diane resolved it seamlessly.

Look at me go!

In my first post about the trip to B&J's, I posted a video showing a really very cool method of making swirls by using pastry bags and a cake decorating stand. I learned this nifty trick in Research and Development.

We met with Flavor Gurus Kristin (developer of Target's Exclusive Brownie Chew Gooder and Berry Voluntary) and John (developer of Late Night Snack and Red Velvet Cake among others -- we'd be short some reviews without his flavors!) who couldn't have been nicer and they definitely knew their stuff.

When we arrived we were told we'd be making Greek frozen yogurt. The base was already made, so it just had to be mixed with a flavor if we wanted, mixed with any add-ins put in the ice cream machine, churned out, and then swirled with a swirl. Seems easy, right? Yeah...the next two photos show only some of the options of the mix-ins and swirls -- the base flavoring didn't even make my photos!

The group decided we'd try a honey base with pistachios and a swirl of fig. Way to go Greek with the Greek froyo, right? I personally think we nailed it on this one (though Jerry seemed skeptical...).

So Kristin and John helped us mix in the honey to the ice cream base (I so have to work this way -- have a ton of base and just add my flavoring...) and then we added lots of pistachios. Kristin put this into the ice cream machine and churned out some very soft serve ice cream. She then put this mixture into a pastry bag, and some fig into another bag, cut off the tips of both, and then spun a cake stand that held a pint container on it. One of us squeezed in the honey pistachio ice cream and the other added a stream of the fig. We got a beautifully swirled ice cream. We tasted a bit and the rest we put into the very deep, very cold freezer so we could test it again after it had ripened a bit.

We tried some other combos (plain base with nutella swirl and shortbread cookie and plain base with a lemon blueberry swirl and dried apricot -- note to self: not a fan of dried apricot in ice cream!) but neither were as killer as our first.

The R&D job seemed like a ton of fun but truth be told the Flavor Gurus don't actually get to spend all that much time in the Flavor Lab. There's paper work to be done, fair trade ingredients to procure, problems to solve if the ingredients can't be found in bulk...sometimes they have to go travel for work finding new ingredients, attending events, etc., which sounds like a real drag...yeah, right!

Ben and Jerry are in the house...

Our tour of headquarters was cut short, which might have been a bummer had it not been for the two VIPs who were hollering "Bloggers! Bloggers!" throughout the building...we turned the corner to find Ben and Jerry themselves. Like a teenager in the sixties meeting the Beatles, I got all excited and nervous and blurted out "We love you guys!" to which Jerry replied (in the true B&J's culture) "It's not us that makes the company. It's the employees." I thought it was still cool how that even though they don't spend as much time on their ice cream dream as they once did, they are still so invested in the company (I suppose I would be too if my name was plastered over millions and millions of cartons of ice cream) and how they seemed to know every employee that walked by. To me (someone who loves making AND eating ice cream) Ben & Jerry are celebrities, but that they still have such a down-to-earthness about them is pretty awesome.

I only wish I looked better in the photo with my ice cream heroes since I want to show it off with pride...Just so you know, I am never washing that sweater again! Haha!

Stay tuned for another post as we meet with Andrea about the Social Mission of B&J's and my wrap up of the event.

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