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Escape to Ben & Jerry's ice cream universe in Burlington, VT

Ben And Jerry's: My big ice cream adventure
Ben And Jerry's: My big ice cream adventure
Linda Talbott Brewer

Remember last year about this time? I was off to Ben & Jerry's for a royal social media tour of the corporate office, Waterbury ice cream factory and local scoop shop? Well, it's that time of year again and I'm typing this as I sit in my window seat on Air Wisconsin; excited to be headed to Burlington, VT once again, for endless amounts of much revered, superior quality ice cream! Oh... And a tour, learning adventure and fun with the B & J folks.

I adore this group of real people who make up the Ben and Jerry world, the atmosphere of their relaxed, all dogs welcomed, comfy couch scattered, gym equipped corporate office, complete with huge, swirly tunnel slide for a fast drop from second floor to first. Yep, that's the kind of place it is. And if you can imagine, that's the kind of people they are, from Ben and Jerry themselves, all the way through the ranks, from corporate doers to scoopers to factory workers.

Started by two close friends of the hippie variety back in the 70's, simply because it fitted their budget, no one had a clue, least of all Ben and Jerry, what a success that $5 investment for a mail order ice cream making course, divided between the two of them, would turn out to be.

With over 300 Scoop Shop locations in the states alone, including two right here in Nashville and tons of employees, many of whom have been there decades, it has become one of the country's top ice cream companies. And arguably, the best place on Planet Earth to work; and in my mind, inarguably the best ice cream in the universe.

I arrived in Burlington, VT. on Sunday evening, in comfy clothes per Ben and Jerry's PR team's advice. I believe that's to whom I owe my second invite to the awesome bloggers' event hosted by the badass ice cream company; the PR team or The Amazing Cone Communications Girls, I've decided to dub them. Since I work with the marketing company often, reviewing foods and cooking products the marketing firm represent, I know the firm pretty well and they are always amazingly good to me, making my job so much easier. Anyhow, I was glad I was advised to get a good night's rest before the very busy three days to come.

It was a crazy busy three days, so I'm going to give you a photo tour, with explanations of what all I did, experienced, tasted, learned and got excited about. I want you to feel about the company the way I feel about them – which is so far beyond just buying their ice creams and yogurts because I think it's the best tasting ice cream on the planet, but what else I taste, sense, realize, as I eat it. By the end of this photo journey, when you buy your next pint or scoop labeled Ben and Jerry, I want you to taste the love, pride and fairness put into each and every scrumptious bite you take. Click on the slide show to begin your tour.

Ben And Jerry's: My big ice cream adventure
Ben And Jerry's: My big ice cream adventure Linda Talbott Brewer

Ben And Jerry's: My big ice cream adventure

Day One: We arrive at the Ben & Jerry's corporate office. The exterior gives you just a mere glimpse into the colorful, fun-filled, quite quirky world of the two still-best-friends world of Peace, Love and of course, Ice Cream.

Surprise standing ovation
Surprise standing ovation Linda Talbott Brewer

Surprise standing ovation

The group of 15 food bloggers, myself included, walk into the gorgeous, cloud and cow decorated corporate office lobby to a thunderous round of applause and standing ovation of the entire Ben & Jerry's corporate crew. There is no way I can make you understand the feeling of standing there, amidst my writing and foodie peers, as a roomful of people hail us with a five minute round of applause, cheers and thanks for the work that we all do as social media influencers. 

Corporate Atmosphere
Corporate Atmosphere Linda Talbott Brewer

Corporate Atmosphere

Of course, the lobby of the Ben & Jerry's corporate office was soon empty of the applauding employees, having been told in good humor, "Now, get back to work!" after completely surprising and astounding our blogging group with an amazing standing ovation. 

Take a look of the corporate office in the photo. See the cows painted on the walls? These gorgeous guys are obviously considered the stars of the company's incredible tasting ice cream products.

Look at their version of a company mailbox, real mailboxes painted in cow spirit against a wall on which is painted a scene of a beautiful dairy farm.

This mural depicts a "Caring Dairy" farm, no doubt. A program created by the Ben & Jerry powers-that-be to make sure the cows who produce their dairy products are treated with the utmost care and respect. Take a look at the first of the company's three-part mission statement, to see why the company cares about its cows:

Our Product Mission drives us to make fantastic ice cream – for its own sake.

To make, distribute and sell the finest quality all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.

This statement, which they live and breathe is only one of the many reasons I respect this Ice Cream Empire more than most companies I can think of.

Private Scoop Shop
Private Scoop Shop Linda Talbott Brewer

Private Scoop Shop

Here is a room inside the Bean & Jerry's corporate office that enchants me, a totally equipped scoop shop, very much just like one  likely located somewhere in your neighborhood. 

It's a quaint, old-time standard ice creamery shop, complete with little soda fountain tables and chairs and a menu that lists everything from scoops to shakes to loaded sundaes - including the new A.M.A.Z.I.N.G Core Sundaes.

Each Core Sundae includes a core center of fudge, caramel or real raspberry jam, which perfectly complements the super-premium ice cream and multitude of chunks that create the two flavors you choose to be on each side of your choice of core. 

And - excitingly, this same sundae method is applied to the delectable core pints, each with an ooey, gooey creamy core middle, with a complimentary flavor on each side. YOU get to choose each spoonful: Heavy on the ice cream, heavy on the gooey core or a beautifully balanced mouthful of it all. Unbelievable goodness. 

Funny aside: As we gathered at dinner with a surprise visit from Ben and Jerry themselves, Ben was telling us that this wasn't the first time they have made a core pint, that in fact, they had once created them with four cores, many years ago, when yours truly piped up and said, "Four Core and Seven Years Ago...!"  I was rather proud of the quip that cracked the duo up.

The only difference from the corporate office scoop shop and  your local shop is that every item on the menu is priced $1.

For scoop shop employees, franchise trainees and people like our group of bloggers, this is a training or tasting facility. For the corporate employees, it's a $1 or often free, happily received interruption of the daily grind, when over the speaker is announced, "The Scoop Shop is now opened for business!" 

Last year, around this time, yours truly was trained just like an employee, in ways of sanitation, scooping, waffle-making, sundae serving... as the pretty large group of corporate employees filed into the shop to grab their free treat, created by last year's bloggers.

Best memory for me? Creating the waffle cone. Right up my alley in the cooking and eating department.

It's so obvious how well the company's employees are treated, not only by the fun you see them having, the double than minimum wages, the incredibly relaxed atmosphere and great benefits, but also in the second part of their mission statement:

Our Economic Mission asks us to manage our Company for sustainable financial growth.

To operate the Company on a sustainable financial basis of profitable growth, increasing value for our stakeholders and expanding opportunities for development and career growth for our employees.

 

3 Pints a day keep the doldrums away
3 Pints a day keep the doldrums away Linda Talbott Brewer

3 Pints a day keep the doldrums away

Great employee benefits include getting to take home three first quality pints of ice cream A DAY!

This may seem small, but these gourmet pints are a well-deserved $5 each, roughly; that means $15 extra bucks a day. I'd take that any day of the week. And, I'd probably be big as a house, but happy as a lamb - or a Ben & Jerry's cow!

Emphasis on employees
Emphasis on employees Linda Talbott Brewer

Emphasis on employees

Something I noticed on my trip last year that was made glaringly clear to me again this time, was the emphasis that is put on the employee in the land of ice creamery. 

A glimpse into the work life of the corporate office team will show you very quickly how highly appreciated and regarded are the employees long-serving and hard-working of the corporation. 

It's a corporation owned by Unilever, yes, but, per the purchase agreement, this company is still run on the terms set by Ben & Jerry themselves back in the day. 

It's a casual atmosphere, where creativity and free-thinking is encouraged, stepping outside the box is applauded and employees are rewarded with the best, dog-filled, family friendly, fun filled, happily decorated office you will ever imagine. 

Unpaid employees treated like best friends
Unpaid employees treated like best friends Linda Talbott Brewer

Unpaid employees treated like best friends

Here is one of the many  employees at the Ben & Jerry corporate office; loyally standing guard, greeting visitors and offering encouragement for nothing more than a pat on the back and bowl of food. These cute little guys are incredibly happy in their work environment, as are their well-trained human companions. 

2014 Ice Cream Flavor Contest
2014 Ice Cream Flavor Contest Linda Talbott Brewer

2014 Ice Cream Flavor Contest

One of our surprises on the very first day at corporate this year, was the announcement that our group would be divided into four teams and given an opportunity to work with one of the two expert Flavor Gurus (their actual title) in creating an original flavor.

The winning team's flavor would be manufactured into enough ice cream to have a blogger fan party at their local scoop shop. Sadly, my team lost. But, still, our flavor and the name of our ice cream was ingenious.... but I'm not telling yet... stay tuned on this one! 

And as we made our Should-Have-Won creation, we were reminded of the way the company makes their ice cream; the highest quality, wholesome ingredients, many organic, all non-GMO, caring-dairy and many fair-trade products, plus ingredients made by local artisans whose companies benefit a cause, like the brownie bits which are made by a company called Greystone that opens its doors every morning to whoever wants to work, no questions asked, be it an ex-con or drug addict.

It's a wonderful idea to make sure those troubled or tragedy-surviving persons have a way to make money to survive without costing the government money or possibly driving them to criminal behavior. 

Once again, the first part of the Ice Cream company's mission statement drives home the core beliefs of this great organization:

Our Product Mission drives us to make fantastic ice cream – for its own sake.

To make, distribute and sell the finest quality all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.

Ephoric is the word
Ephoric is the word Linda Talbott Brewer

Ephoric is the word

How do you describe an ice cream that makes your eyeballs roll into the back of your head, your soul soar to the Heavens and your mood to take an upward jump? Euphoric... that's perfect.

Which flavor is perfect for you?

Making our own flavor
Making our own flavor Linda Talbott Brewer

Making our own flavor

Here is one of my team members in the "Make Your Own Flavor Challenge" we were given on our first day. She is making the ice cream base, which we deemed would be Sweet Cream.

We were given a list of products we were allowed to use, samples of most of them - which we seriously had to test, of course, and a Flavor Guru to lead us through the process which is the first and probably most serious parts of the production process.

Serious maybe, but decadently fun, positively. It's a good thing they have a gym at headquarters, with a personal trainer coming in three times a week. And amazing how most every employee is trim and fit. 

Loading on the creamy swirls
Loading on the creamy swirls Linda Talbott Brewer

Loading on the creamy swirls

This was a chilly process as my team members and I had to work in tandem to pipe the ice cream in the bowl, which is being spun on a lazy susan, as the ooey-gooey syrupy goodness is piped in as evenly as possible to surround every level of frozen yum with a thick swirl of syrup. 

Sliding into to the Ben & Jerry's Core
Sliding into to the Ben & Jerry's Core Linda Talbott Brewer

Sliding into to the Ben & Jerry's Core

Here I am, hard at work at the Ben & Jerry's corporate office in Burlington, VT.  It was a hard job, eating probably 10 flavors of ice cream a day, being fed at the finest farm to table restaurants ever, having cocktails, laughing a LOT, snow-shoeing and learning about a brilliant company's strategy for a profitable company, great business practices, good-for-humanity ideals and brilliant marketing strategies. 

Don't hate me because I'm a Ben & Jerry's girl!

How it all began
How it all began Linda Talbott Brewer

How it all began

I'm publishing this article on April 8 for an awesome reason; Today is FREE CONE DAY at Ben & Jerry's all over the world. 

It's a day of celebration for the company and the customers, that started April 8, 1979 on the one year anniversary  of the first shop, to thank all the loyal customers who had been the biggest reason the company was such a success. 

And it's a tradition that has been kept up for 35 years. That's 35 years of creating jobs, making a difference in the community, using local farmers, local products, standing up for rights, ideals and causes that they believe in. Always Non-Partisan, sometimes not loved by all, but loved by most, it's Ben & Jerry's mission to make a difference in this world, as shown in the third part of their Values/Mission Statements below:

Our Social Mission compels us to use our Company in innovative ways to make the world a better place.

To operate the company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally.

Flavor Presentation
Flavor Presentation Linda Talbott Brewer

Flavor Presentation

My team and I were surprised once again by the Ben & Jerry's and Cone marketing teams when we were taken, after our ice cream was created, to the Marketing/Art Department where all the ads, flyers and posters are created for the company. 

And this was definitely interesting: we got to come together as a team and design a gorgeous poster that perfectly described our new flavor; the same process the real Flavor Gurus go through when creating a new flavor for your pleasure.

As you can now see, our flavor sensation is called "Forty Weeks". Can you guess why? See if you can pull it all together once you see our ingredient list.

40 Weeks; The flavor that should-have-been!
40 Weeks; The flavor that should-have-been! Linda Talbott Brewer

40 Weeks; The flavor that should-have-been!

At least we were rewarded with a print of the awesome 40 Weeks Poster, describing our genius creation.

And here it is: The flavor that Should-Have-Been! At least we thought so, as our team created what all four of us gals agreed were the ingredients that would solve ice cream urges, munchies and CRAVINGS (as in a 40 Week Pregnancy?) the whole world over. 

Okay, so maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, but I still think it was awesome. 

40 Weeks

Sweet Cream Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Potato Chip Balls, Almond Toffee and a Honey Caramel Swirl

Wouldn't you have loved to come to my local shop for a free 40 Weeks party? Did I mention that we didn't win? Please feel free to protest to the powers that be.

Judges Debate the Winner
Judges Debate the Winner Linda Talbott Brewer

Judges Debate the Winner

Here are a couple of the contest judges, tasting and debating which of the four teams' flavors were the best and most deserving of their new flavor being produced for a huge free ice cream party in their local scoop shop. (I SO wanted to win this for you guys!)

And the winner is:

Honestly, I don't remember, but I think it had booze in it - and I know it wasn't us.

The Coldest Spot North of Savannah
The Coldest Spot North of Savannah Linda Talbott Brewer

The Coldest Spot North of Savannah

 This was the flavor we got to sample at the factory, made just for us. And man, was it delish. But still, my Fave is the Peanut Butter Fudge Core. I wish I had some right now. Remember, guys, moderation is the key! And Free Cone Day is always April 8; mark it on your calendars.

Waterbury Plant
Waterbury Plant Linda Talbott Brewer

Waterbury Plant

Day two takes us to the Waterbury, VT. ice cream producing plant, where we were treated to a tour of the ice cream making process, all the love and attention and serious detail that goes into every pint and given a glimpse of what I think might be the World's Most Devoted Employees. 

It's incredible, hearing these guys talk. One common expression, as they are talking about things that can and sometimes do happen, like pints not coming out to their exacting standards, and that expression is, "Not on my watch;  They will never make make it through." (speaking of any kind of less than perfect quality, substandard products)

Quality Assurance
Quality Assurance Linda Talbott Brewer

Quality Assurance

Quality Assurance is taken as seriously as a heart attack here at the factory.  Nothing makes it through the process unless it is top quality. Hourly taste, feel, sight, touch and smell tests of every kind (even metal detector scans) are made, to ensure that our ice cream is always the best it can be. 

The head of QA spoke to us, with passion in his eyes, about how dedicated he is to making the best quality product he can possibly make. 

Here you see him cutting into pints, to show us how the new core flavors make a gooey, thick, river straight down the middle of every single pint.

And let me tell you, when they brought us a few pints straight off the factory floor, still barely frozen, with those peanut buttery, chocolately or raspberry cores, we all learned first-hand just what Euphoric really means. OMG to the nth degree.

Core Values
Core Values Linda Talbott Brewer

Core Values

Here is a shot of several pints of the new core flavors which include fudge, caramel or raspberry cores.

The four new incredible Core flavors include (in order of my faves, least first (which I could still eat in my sleep!):

That's My Jam, the one I placed #4 on my list, but still absolutely loved: raspberry and chocolate ice creams with fudge chips and a raspberry core.

Hazed & Confused, which has chocolate and hazelnut ice creams with fudge chips and a hazelnut fudge core, my #3 favorite.

Salted Caramel with sweet cream ice cream, blonde brownies and a salty caramel core, which is my #2 favorite.

Peanut Butter Fudge, my #1 absolute favorite ice cream I've ever tasted in my life;  chocolate and peanut butter ice creams with miniature peanut butter cups and a peanut butter fudge core.

 

 
 
Ben & Jerry's New Core Flavors
Ben & Jerry's New Core Flavors Linda Talbott Brewer

Ben & Jerry's New Core Flavors

I highly recommend that you drive, or better yet fly, to the local grocery right as your busy day ends, get one of each of the delectable new core flavors and head right home to crawl in bed, watch TV and try at least a spoonful of each one of them. What is you fave list order?

Trip Draws to a Close
Trip Draws to a Close Linda Talbott Brewer

Trip Draws to a Close

As we make our way out of the factory, past the ice cream flavor cemetery (Yes, there really is one) and head in our vans for our last dinner together, we all are excited to get home and write about our trip, excited that we made new friends and a little bit sad that it was almost over. 

And then we pull up to the Farm House restaurant (now there is another delight!) and who should be standing outside to greet us but Ben and Jerry in the flesh! 

What a delightful end to our trip, meeting the geniuses, the minds, the personalities behind this bigger than life company. 

The two sat down with us, talked to us about how much they appreciate what we all do as writers and showed us a very interesting video, which you can check out, about Ben's mission to Stamp money out of politics. I never talk about things like this, but this one excited me and I actually joined the cause, which I never do. Take a look, see if it interests you too, if so, shout it out to the world. 

I have my STAMP, do you?

Ben and Jerry, worthy heroes
Ben and Jerry, worthy heroes Linda Talbott Brewer

Ben and Jerry, worthy heroes

Here are two guys who are worth studying. For their brains, skills, ideals, methods and most of all, heart. Not just heart, but consistent heart. 

Over thirty-five years, the Still-Best-Friends-Duo have worked side by side to create a company that to many is the picture of a near-perfectly run business. Yes, they have hit bumps, hills and mountains along the way, but they have never stepped away from their Core Values. 

I have high regard for these two humble gentlemen: I salute you two, I just wish I had a pint of Core Ice Cream to toast you with. 

 

The Stampede
The Stampede Linda Talbott Brewer

The Stampede

Stamp Money Out of Politics; it's a non-partisan way for Ben & Jerry, and their company, to create a campaign that just might make a difference. It is a very valid hope that one day, our individual votes could mean something, don't you think?

Check it out, see if you want to be part of The Stampede. 

The Whole Damn Family
The Whole Damn Family Linda Talbott Brewer

The Whole Damn Family

Here we are, a bunch of bloggers, all in our personalized Ben & Jerry's Fleece, with the ice cream giants themselves. Notice how happy we look? That's the look you seem to find all over the Ben & Jerry's company, whether at corporate, the factory or the local scoop shop. 

I swear, if I didn't hate cold weather, I'd go work at their corporate office in Vermont. But for now, I'll just cross my fingers that I get to work with this crew again and again. 

I hope you've enjoyed your tour of a GOOD company. I know I did. Stay tuned for more to come on Ben & Jerry's. AND... go get your free scoop!