Ben & Jerry took a correspondence course to learn how to make ice cream, and opened shop for the first time in May 1978. Then winter came, and people stopped buying ice cream. Jerry describes himself as the least creative and entrepreneurial person he knows — it's all been Ben — but he then came up with the company's best marketing idea ever:
PODCBZE. Percent off per degree celsius below zero.
They gotÂ through winter by selling to restaurants. Ben thought that people driving around selling stuff had a great job, because they got to drive around listening to music, so they turned Ben into a travelling sales person by kitting up a car with a freezer and a great tape deck. That got them through the next winter. The winter after that, they moved up to an old truck because they weren't able to fit enough ice cream in Ben's car. But soon they were spending more money fixing the truck than they were earning on ice cream. Then Ben got the idea of putting ice cream in pints so they could sell to stores. Then they got a couple of small distributors to start distributing their ice cream; then they got a couple of big distributors to take their product into major markets. Â
A few distributors were just starting to carry their product when they got an urgent call from the distributors, saying they had to meet. They met near Logan Airport, where the distributors told B&J that Haagen Daaz, which had just been purchased by Pillsbury, had told these distributors that they would no longer sell them Haagen Daaz if they were also selling Ben & Jerry's. Since Haagen Daaz was the distributors' most profitable product, the distributors were going to drop B&J.
This seemed to be a violation of anti-trust law, so B&J thought maybe they'd file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. But they were told the FTC had been Reaganized, so didn't expect that to work. They decided that if they were going to go down, they might as well first take their issue to the public, so they launched the "What's the Dough Boy afraid of?" campaign. Jerry went to Pillsbury
They took out classifieds. Then an airplane banner. Then some signs showing big white pudgy doughboy hands squeezing a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Then they decidced to go to their customers: they printed an 800 number on all points, and when people called in they were invited to leave their name & address. Then B&J sent an action kit to each person with a bumper sticker, a letter to send to the FTC, and a T-shirt offer. (For $10 you could get a "what's the dough boy afraid of?" t-shirt that said "
Started getting a couple hundred calls a week, mostly between midnight and 3am. Eventually got picked up by the media — New Yorker, Wall Street Journal.
Thanks to the public outcry, Pillsbury/Haagen Daaz backed down, and B&J was able to get distribution, which is what let B&J get distributed across the country.
ARound that time B&J realized they weren't ice cream guys anymore — they were business men. They were spending time on hiring and firing and accounting. We had grown up in the 60s and had all these negative feelings about business. We didn't want to be a cog in the machine.
Ben ran into Maurice Purpura and told him that we were getting out of business.
Ben said, you know what business does. It spoils the evironment! It exploits workers! It hurts the community!
Maurice said, if you don't like that, why don't you change it?
That had never occurred to us. But we decided to stay with it, and make something we could be proud of. Something good for the community. And that's been the journey since then: could we find a way to integrate social and environmental concerns into the business of the company.
When we first started to do it, there was no blueprint for it. We just started trying different things. There's this idea, this conventional thinking, that if you try to do some good, and also have a for-profit business, it won't work. But if you try to combine them the possibilities are essentially limitless.
I can give some examples. And I can also tell lots of stories that didn't work.
About fourteen of our scoop shops are partnerships that are co-owned by nonprofits. They employ youth who otherwise wouldn't have work. We make just as much money as from other shops.