On Thursday, April 18, fans of the iconic ice cream brand, Ben and Jerry’s, filled the Mandela Room. Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of the Burlington, Vermont ice cream company, was greeted by cheers as he stood at the podium, sharing an inspiring story of how he and his partner, Ben Cohen, created one of America’s most loved treats.
Greenfield first described his college experiences to the audience, informing how he was once a pre-medical student, which related to the struggles of trying and failing, especially for the young audience. After getting rejected from medical school not once, but twice, he worked as a lab technician for some time. His co-founder, Cohen, dropped out of two different universities and tried multiple forms of schooling, withdrawing or quitting each time. One day, the two decided to take a correspondence course on ice cream making from Pennsylvania State University’s creamery.
In 1978, the two opened an ice cream parlor in Burlington, Vermont, hoping the best would come out of their $12,000 investment. Buying used World War II ice cream makers and tons of green wood for the interior, the two turned a run-down gas station into a rustic dessert shop, using the cheapest materials available.
Greenfield discussed how Ben and Jerry’s has faced a variety of obstacles getting in the way of their success for years. From Häagen-Dazs attempting to limit Ben and Jerry’s ice cream distribution and the “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of?” campaign to their recent criticisms for taking a stance on certain social and political issues. According to Greenfield, in 1984, Ben and Jerry’s was just starting to take off as a business. Häagen-Dazs, the most profitable ice cream brand at the time, threatened to withdraw their products from distribution in Boston, Massachusetts, hoping to eliminate Ben and Jerry’s from their competition. Greenfield and Cohen knew that they could not compete with the power of such a large brand, and as a result, they launched the “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of?” campaign, reaching out directly to their own customers and gaining power in numbers. After a multiple-year effort, Ben and Jerry’s still succeeded, distributing their ice cream all over the country. Despite these numerous challenges, Greenfield noted that Ben and Jerry’s has managed to come out stronger by finding creative solutions to problems and garnering a loyal fan base that supports their company values.
Jordan Lichtenstein, a freshman majoring in accounting, expressed his excitement for the event.
“I came because I am a big fan of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and the story that the two creators of the company had,” Lichtenstein said. “Their dedication to helping out the community and their genuine attitudes about [their] love of ice cream is very inspiring.”
Greenfield’s speech in front of students was followed by a Q&A session, where students could ask all of the burning questions they had about the dessert business, all while eating free ice cream provided by the Student Association Programming Board (SAPB). Students asked questions ranging from company policies, the inspiration behind new flavors and Greenfield’s personal favorite ice cream (AmeriCone Dream). The event gave Binghamton University students an inside look into the company, such as their vision to create a business model that is consistent with their morals and gives back to their community.
According to Lichtenstein, the event was a valuable experience because Greenfield was able to encourage the University community through not only ice cream, but also relatable experiences.
“This type of event brings the community together. There are many people who love ice cream and to be able to share this experience with many other people is amazing,” Lichtenstein said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet the founder of one of the best ice cream companies.”