The Quest | The Free Press of Reed College

Hippie Turns Half-Baked Idea into Americone Dream

Ben and Jerry's Gray FundVollum Lecture Hall swarmed with Reedies Thursday night to hear Jerry Greenfield speak about the often forgotten, socially responsible aspect of business. Some came to enlighten their minds with Jerry’s wisdom, while others came with grumbling stomachs and hopes of free ice cream. This Gray Fund sponsored event granted their wishes, as an ice cream social with Jerry took place after the lecture.

According to Jerry, Ben and Jerry’s origins can be traced back to Jerry’s seventh grade gym class, where Jerry and Ben were the two, “fattest, slowest kids in the class.” The teacher yelled at them that if they didn’t run their mile in seven minutes then they would have to run it again, and Ben responded, “Gee coach, if I don’t do it in under seven minutes the first time, I’m certainly not going to do it in under seven minutes the second time.”

In that moment, Jerry knew he wanted to be friends with Ben.

Jerry’s failure to get into medical school and Ben’s failure to find a college that satisfied his, “unique learning style” accounted for their decision to go into business with each other. Even the University without Bounds, where there were no grades and no classrooms, was too much structure for him.

After growing up in the 60’s, the two had a natural disposition against corporations, and at the beginning of Ben and Jerry’s success, Ben nearly dropped out of the company altogether. Nevertheless, a business associate told them, “If you don’t like how business is done, then change it,” and this changed the whole way they viewed business – they realized that their company could be a source of good in the community.

Ben and Jerry’s went on to do the unthinkable for a large corporation: they supported the Occupy Movement, brought their stocks to the public rather than the venture capitalists so that their community could rise with them, and will soon be both 100% GMO free and fair trade.

Jerry Greenfield.

Jerry Greenfield.

Jerry stated that there was a spiritual aspect to life that was often forgotten in business and that he is striving to bring the two together. In fact, this inclusion allows for both society and business to prosper. He said that by giving back to the community, the community can in turn give back to businesses.

Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Scoop Shop began with all used ice cream equipment, a $4000 loan, and $8000 savings. The location of Burlington, Vermont was carefully chosen. It was so cold that there were no other ice cream shops around.

“We thought this was a good thing,” Jerry joked.

He described how every summer, they would get good business and then winter would return, and their customers would seem to vanish. That’s when they came up with what Jerry referred to as Ben and Jerry’s best marketing strategy in the history of the company. As the temperatures dropped below freezing, so too did the ice cream. Unfortunately, this strategy was not enough, which may have been a stroke of luck as it led to Ben getting his “first good idea.”

These less than ideal circumstances led to Ben’s decision to start driving around in his truck and selling ice cream in pint sizes to grocery stores. In the end, what really brought little Ben and Jerry’s to the mainstream was an attempt by the Pillsbury owned company, Haagen Dazs, by forcing grocery stores to choose between the two. The grocery stores naturally chose the more profitable choice, Haagen Daz, which led to the “What’s the dough boy afraid of?” campaign and brought Ben and Jerry’s widespread attention.

The five ice cream flavors served at the ice cream social were: Chocolate Therapy, 7 Coconut Bar, Milk and Cookies, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, and Vanilla. The lines of students waiting to enjoy the treat spread from Vollum 212 to the bottom of the stairs. This long line attested to Jerry’s words of wisdom: “a corporation does not need to be heartless to succeed.”

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