6 (Almost) Scandals From Ben & Jerry’s History

July 25, 2016

It’s (Almost) Scandalous!

We’re reasonable people here at Ben & Jerry’s, so we know that nobody’s perfect. Sometimes we let our cones get a little drippy and ruin our favorite shirt; we’re only human after all.

And sometimes we’re rocked by scandals that shake us to the very core. Or at least make us laugh pretty hard. Like these six episodes from our colorful history:


Outside of Ben & Jerry's


1978: Starting a Business Is Harder Than It Looks

When our co-founders opened the first Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop in a renovated gas station in downtown Burlington, Vermont, they were newbies to this whole running a business thing. As the duo write in their 1997 tell-all book, “Our portion control was out of control; we were hiring our friends and then agonizing over supervising them; our financial records were usually located in the back pocket of Ben’s jeans. We were having fun, but we weren’t exactly mastering the art of retailing.”  In fact, the first Free Cone Day was to thank customers for helping them keep the doors open for a full year…it wasn’t easy! They got the hang of it eventually, though, and had opened 41 more Scoop Shops by 1987.


Pillsbury Building


1984: What’s The Doughboy Afraid Of?

By 1984 (think: parachute pants and the premier of Ghostbusters), Ben and Jerry were cranking out pints to sell in grocery stores far and wide. But getting your product onto store shelves was no easy task, with lots of brands fighting for limited shelf space. So when Häagen-Dazs (which was at the time owned by Pillsbury) tried to keep Ben & Jerry’s pints out of stores, the founders took action.


“We believed that Pillsbury’s actions were illegal,” says Ben, “but we knew that in a strictly legal fight we’d run out of time and money long before Pillsbury would. Our only option was to rely on our customers and the media to pressure Pillsbury into backing off. So we started printing the slogan “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of?” on our pint containers, along with an 800 number for the Doughboy Hotline. Everyone who called got a Doughboy Kit, with protest letters addressed to the Federal Trade Commission and the chairman of the Pillsbury board, and a bumper sticker.”


The campaign got national attention when the media got wind of it, and eventually four hundred people a week were calling the Doughboy Hotline.

And it worked – Pillsbury backed off and agreed to stop blocking Ben & Jerry’s from store shelves. Success!


2008: Activism Gone Awry

Anybody remember what big thing happened in 2008? No, not the Olympics. The election! Yup, the one that gave us our very first African-American president.

Ben and Jerry have long been advocates for democracy and of everyone having a voice in our political process. So in 2008, we decided to offer a free scoop to anyone who came into a Scoop Shop and showed their “I Voted” sticker. We didn’t care who you voted for, just that you got out and made your voice heard.

But, it turns out that giving away freebies as incentives for voting is not super legal. So, we had to modify the offer: free scoops for anybody who had a sticker on, voting-related or otherwise. Sure, some wiseguys came in with non-voting-related stickers for a free scoop, and we were happy to oblige.


And speaking of elections and voting, have you registered to vote? Do it here!


2009: When It Comes to Ice Cream, Size Does Matter

When you buy a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, you know it’s going to be a pint. Sixteen ounces. Thirty-two tablespoons. You get the idea. So in 2009 when Häagen-Dazs downsized their “pints” from 16 ounces to 14, we had a little fun with it. “We understand that in today’s hard economic times businesses are feeling the pinch,” we said. “We also understand that many of you are also feeling the same, and think now more than ever you deserve your full pint of ice cream.” Ben & Jerry’s eaters everywhere raised a spoon in euphoric solidarity.


Heart drawn in Chocolate Ice Cream


2012: Ben & Jerry’s Flavors Get A Little Too Hot

We’re no strangers to flirting with the boundaries of the untoward – think Schweddy Balls and Karamel Sutra. And we get a huge kick out of the million pint parodies floating around the interwebz. But when a couple of porn producers started using Ben & Jerry’s flavors as the inspiration for their films, we had to draw the line. It turns out you won’t be seeing any any fudge swirls or peanut butter cups in the adult section of your local video store after all.


Ben & Jerry being arrested.


2016: Ben and Jerry Get Arrested

In a plot twist that riled the internet for weeks, our co-founders laid it all on the line for their beliefs this past April. While in Washington, DC taking part in the Democracy Awakening week of action, they were arrested, along with hundreds of other activists. “The history of our country is that nothing happens,” said Ben just before the arrest, “until people start putting their bodies on the line and risk getting arrested.”

We couldn’t be prouder that our co-founders are willing to risk it all for what they believe in. Because what they believe in – that everyone should have a voice in our democracy – is what this country was built on, a government for the people and by the people.