- Ben & Jerry’s is the best-selling single ice cream brand in the world.
- It’s gained a cult following thanks to classic flavors like Half Baked and Cherry Garcia and a mission to use ice cream to fight for equality.
- We visited the plant in St. Albans, Vermont, to see how Ben & Jerry’s pumps out nearly 1 million pints a day.
- It takes hundreds of workers, special machinery, and a 24/7 operation to package up these pints.
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Following is a transcription of the video.
Narrator: Scooped up across 38 countries and up to 75 flavors, Ben & Jerry’s is no pint-sized operation. Its two Vermont factories run 24/7, operated by hundreds of flavor makers. Together, they pump out nearly a million pints a day, from classic flavors like Cherry Garcia and Half Baked to flavors on a mission for criminal-justice reform and refugee rights. And all those flavors have to be delicious.
Sarah Fidler: Our minimum run size, once we get a flavor to the factory, is 80,000 pints. So not only do we have to love it, but 80,000 fans have to love it too.
Narrator: We visited the St. Albans plant in northern Vermont to see how these famous pints flip their way to our freezers. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream in 1978. From a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, they launched a brand based on sustainable ice cream making and advocating for causes they believed in, and it worked. Today, Ben & Jerry’s is the best-selling single brand ice cream label in the US. To pump out its iconic flavors, first it starts with ingredients.
Ben & Jerry’s partners with 250 farms globally to source everything from vanilla bean to milk. Milk comes from the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, just a mile and a half from the factory. Once the milk’s at the plant, it heads to one of these massive, 6,000-gallon silos.
But before it can be made into ice cream, everyone involved has to suit up, including us. Gowns, hairnets, caps, and boots.
To make the ice cream base, the milk heads to the blend tank. Cream, milk, and lots of sugar are churned together. The factory goes through 6,700 gallons of cream every single day. Every ice cream flavor starts with either a sweet cream base or a chocolate base.
Next, the Mix Master will pour in eggs, stabilizers, and cocoa powder if it’s a chocolate base. Then it’s piped into the pasteurizer. You can’t see it happening, but hot steel plates are heating up the mix to kill any harmful bacteria. The newly pasteurized milk is stored in a tank for four to eight hours, so the ingredients can really get to know each other.
After making the two bases, they’ll head to one of the 20 flavor vats to get a flavor boost.
Fidler: We’re always coming up with new flavors, hundreds of flavors a year, and we usually narrow it down to about three or four. We really love to bring our social mission values into our naming process. For example, Empower Mint to talk about voting rights.
Narrator: Before Ben & Jerry’s famous chunks can be added, the mix has to get to below-freezing temperatures. It’s pumped through this giant freezing barrel, and when it gets to the front, it’s finally ice cream. Along the way, it’s quality tested, meaning lucky factory floor workers get to taste the ice creams.
Then it goes into the first of two freezer visits. When it comes out, it’s 22 degrees and somewhere between the consistency of a milkshake and soft serve.
Now for the best part, the chunks. Founder Ben actually didn’t have a great sense of smell, which meant he couldn’t taste much either. So his big thing was texture. That’s why Ben & Jerry’s has some of the biggest chunks in the ice cream industry. These chunks end up in flavors like Half Baked, Chubby Hubby, or the one we’re making, Chocolate Therapy.
Workers dump in add-ins through the Chunk Feeder, from brownie bites and cookie dough globs to chocolate chunks, fruits, and nuts. They let us give it a try, but it’s not as easy as it looks. Then it’s finally time to pack those pints. Workers stack the empty containers into the automatic filler. The machine drops the pints into position and perfectly pumps in ice cream. It can fill up 270 pints a minute. The pints are pushed towards the lidder and sealed tight.
At this point, six pints every hour are pulled off the line for quality testing. Quality assurance personnel first cut pints open. They’re making sure the ingredients are symmetrical and there aren’t any big air bubbles.
Worker: There is a small gap, but that’s what we call a functional void. If we saw large voids, it would be concerning. It’s actually quite the workout, as you can tell.
Narrator: They also measure the weight and volume of pints to ensure that the right amount of ice cream makes it into each container.
Worker: So, we know the weight of the ice cream, and anything below 460 is not passable.
Narrator: Now back to the factory line. It’s now time for the pints to take a second spin in the freezer. The ice cream has to get even colder, down to minus 10 degrees. The pints travel along the Spiral Hardener, a corkscrew-shaped conveyor belt inside a freezer. With the wind chill, it can get up to minus 60 degrees in there.
After three hours, the pints are finally frozen and ready to be packaged. They’re flipped over and shrink wrapped into groups of eight. Together, they make a gallon. But you’ll never actually see a gallon tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, because the company never wants its ice cream going bad sitting in the back of your fridge. Once the pints are packaged, they’re ready to be shipped across the globe.
Abby Narishkin: Hey, guys, my name’s Abby, and I’m one of the producers on this video. My favorite flavor is definitely Ben & Jerry’s Milk & Cookies, but let me know your favorites in the comments below and if you have any ideas for the next episode of “Big Business.” Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button so you don’t miss out.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in August 2020.