January 1, 2016
Way back when, before there was Chocolate Fudge Brownie, we were making brownie ice cream sandwiches for sale in grocery stores. Sometimes there would be broken pieces in the brownie delivery, and we’d nab them for flavor experiments. What would brownie pieces taste like in chocolate ice cream? “Pretty good, as it turns out,” recalls Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Guru and “Primal Ice Cream Therapist,” Peter Lind. That original experimental flavor eventually became the legendary ice cream concoction known as Chocolate Fudge Brownie.
Meanwhile, Ben Cohen had met Bernie Glassman, the founder of Yonkers-based social enterprise Greyston Bakery. Greyston’s open-door hiring policy made the business a perfect pairing to Ben & Jerry’s passion for linked prosperity: the concept that what’s good for our employees and suppliers is also good for business. Equally important, their brownies were just so darn good— after sampling some, Ben handwrote a note asking for two truckloads of brownie pieces.
The Sticky Process of Perfecting Brownie Bites
While we knew Greyston would be the ideal supplier for turning Chocolate Fudge Brownie into a flavor sold by the pint, getting the brownies to cooperate wasn’t a proverbial walk in the Scoop Shop. Both our businesses were still new and growing, and Greyston had to ramp up their production just to meet the demand for our Chocolate Fudge Brownie needs.
But even trickier, they had to figure out how to turn their standard 3-inch by 1-inch thick brownies into 1-inch by 1/4 –inch pieces. The goal was to create frozen brownie bites that would flow out of bags into the Chunk Feeders that add in all our tasty chunks to the ice cream flavors. Solving that riddle took some on-site, late-night innovation between Lind and the bakers.
It took Greyston bakers 2 months to hand-cut the bites from each sheet of brownies, and fill up the two freezer truckloads that Ben had ordered. Up in Vermont, Lind had organized an event on the factory floor to showcase the production of the new flavor. But on the big day, the bites were still frozen solid to each other. “One huge 25-pound brownie fell into the Chunk Feeder— we had to hire 5 new employees and equip them with stainless steel hatchets to break up the pieces.”
Savoring the Sweet Flavor of Success
Of course, every innovation is likely to have some kinks that need to be worked out. In fact, if it goes too easy, maybe the idea isn’t radical enough. “We probably made about 25 batches of brownies,” recalls Lind, “before we had the right combination of flavor, resistance to crumbling when cut, and chewiness in ice cream over time.” Within six months, the new flavor was debuting in Scoop Shops and freezer shelves all over.
What started as an exciting, and ultimately delicious, riddle to solve has become the stuff of legends for both Ben & Jerry’s and Greyston. It’s a funny story that just goes to show how far both our businesses have come. Twenty-five years later, we still get all our brownies from Greyston, whose own success has made them a social enterprise leader. But really, the proof is in the pint. Chocolate Fudge Brownie is, and remains, one of the most beloved flavors we’ve ever made.
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