Cherry Garcia: The Long Strange Trip from Idea to Ice Cream

September 25, 2015

Back in the olden days, before cell phones and web sites and tweeting for ice cream, our fans spoke to us via hand written notes pinned to the bulletin boards in our scoop shops. Some left letters, others bestowed doodles, and the passionate few shared suggestions for brand new flavors. We liked that last group a lot. Without them, we may never have introduced one of our most popular flavors of all time—Cherry Garcia.

A Pint of Ben & Jerry's - Cherry Garcia

A Legend is Born

Sometime in 1986, a fan up in Maine left the idea for Cherry Garcia on a board in her local scoop shop. The employees either missed it or dismissed it, because the flavor suggestion never made its way to Vermont. Luckily our fan was persistent. She followed up with a postcard to our main office in Burlington:

Dear Ben & Jerry’s:

We’re great fans of the Grateful Dead and we’re great fans of your ice cream. Why don’t you make a cherry flavor and call it Cherry Garcia? You know it will sell because Dead paraphernalia always sells. We are talking good business sense here, plus it will be a real hoot for the fans.

A flavor celebrating Jerry Garcia? What a perfect idea! We got to work right away—both on developing the flavor and trying to track down our anonymous flavor suggestor.

The Road to Launch

While our ice cream detectives began their hunt, Ben led the team of Flavor Gurus in creating a pint good enough to bear Jerry’s name. The original idea was to duplicate the flavor of cherry-covered cordials. It tasted good, but we wanted great. After more tinkering and toying and trial by freezer, the team decided to go with whole bing cherries and smaller ­than ­usual chocolate chunks in vanilla ice cream – just a pinch different from today’s Cherry Garcia, which features cherry ice cream instead of vanilla.

A pint of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia with Cherries

The flavor made its debut on February 15, 1987. The chill of winter and nip in the air were not enough to put a damper on our fans’ enthusiasm. Cherry Garcia quickly became one of our 3 most popular flavors. We sent the first 8 pints we made straight to Mr. Garcia himself, and Jerry’s wife and publicist even called to say that he gave it the thumbs up!

The Search Concludes

Some months after the launch, Ben and Jerry were sitting up in Burlington going through the week’s collection of fan mail. They opened one envelope and a Cherry Garcia pint lid fell out. A closer look revealed a note scribbled in familiar handwriting. “I’m glad you made the flavor,” it said. It was signed by Jane Williamson, and the handwriting matched the anonymous postcard that sparked their creativity.

Wheels were set into motion, Jane was found and contacted, and she was invited to our next shareholders’ meeting as the guest of honor. She received a standing ovation along with a year’s supply of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Addressing shareholders, she said, “I can’t think of a better company I would like to have sponsor something I thought of.”

The Band Plays On

It’s been a long, strange trip since we received that anonymous postcard way back in 1986. A lot has changed with our company and with the world, but two things have remained exactly the same: Jerry Garcia’s music brings happiness into our lives, and Cherry Garcia holds its spot as one of the greatest ice cream flavors around.