Getting the scoop on Ben & Jerry’s co-founder, Jerry Greenfield

Courtesy of Paul Stein via Flickr under CC-BY-SA 2.0

For years, Ben & Jerry’s has been one of the biggest ice cream brands on the market. It was founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in 1978. Together, these two friends created unique ice cream flavors that everyone could enjoy from the comfort of their homes. On Tuesday, May 11, the ASPB hosted “A Scoop of Success with Jerry Greenfield” as part of their quarter for a cause theme, career and professional development. In this guest Q&A discussion, Greenfield shared some of his experiences in building a successful business.

Joab Corey, a professor of economics at UCR, led the first round of questions. Greenfield talked about how he created the company with Cohen because they were childhood friends who wanted to start a business that was food-related. They decided to sell ice cream and opened an ice cream parlor in Burlington, Vermont because the cold environment meant that they would have less competitors. To stay in business during the winters, the men began to package and sell their ice cream to local restaurants.

It took some time for their business to take off. According to Greenfield, they “started with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry” with their only interesting flavor being mint with oreo cookies. In the beginning, they would create new flavors each day and serve it at their shop, but now “it probably takes a year for the company to develop a flavor from start to end.” There were people who told Cohen and Greenfield that starting an ice cream business in Vermont would be unsuccessful, but having each other to lean on helped them push past those types of obstacles.

Since becoming one of the biggest ice cream companies in the world, Ben & Jerry’s has used its status to publicly support marriage equality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Ben & Jerry’s is a company that tries to derail the narrative that businesses exist solely to maximize profit. Greenfield recognizes the powerful role businesses play in society, and this understanding is reflected on how he runs his company. “In my experience, the more kind and caring Ben & Jerry’s has been, the more successful it’s been,” Greenfield explained.

During the second half of the event, students were encouraged to ask Greenfield about his business pursuits. Some students wanted to know how he felt jumping into a risky business venture. Greenfield revealed that he never felt like it was too risky because they didn’t have much to lose. If it didn’t work, he might have had less money than when he started, but he would have learned something new. Plus, working with his best friend was a joyous experience, and they had very few disagreements. They worked as a team with Cohen coming up with ideas for new flavors and Greenfield creating them.

With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world, Hayle Lee asked Greenfield how the virus affected their business. Greenfield revealed that his company didn’t lose much during the global pandemic. “People at home eat a lot more ice cream,” he stated. “It’s a real comfort food.” Later, Greenfield did admit that, while he loved many different ice cream flavors, he was “not a big fan of Cherry Garcia.”

This event gave helpful tips and encouragement to young people seeking to become entrepreneurs. It described the ups and downs of business in a tasteful manner. The ASPB will host its next event on Thursday, May 20: Out of the Mud with Tobe Nwigwe. 

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