Friday, April 30, 2010

Henry Goode's Soft Eating Liquorice

It is not exactly a secret to my readers that I am a big fan of licorice. It's also well known what brand I love best. But I am always looking to try new kinds, and when the folks at Henry Goode's asked if I was up to giving their Soft Eating Licorice a try, I of course said yes.

Each piece of licorice is a soft little log about 2 inches long. The logs are indeed quite soft and smooshy.

The smell from the waxed paper bag is subtle, sort of like molasses. So I bit into the log expecting a molasses-type sweetness. Instead I got a sweet (but not too sweet) yet strong anise flavor. No molasses in sight (or taste). Tastewise, what it really reminded me of was chewing on fresh fennel stalks. (Yes, we did do that at my house -- fennel was a favorite snack of my grandfather). Despite the fact that fennel is often mislabeled in stores as anise, the two herbs are quite different. (Fennel looks sort of like celery, only with a big whitish bulb at the bottom, and the leaves are feathery.) But what they have in common is anethole, which gives both herbs their similar tastes.

It's a very clean, very simple, fresh chew. It's not as strong as, say, your average black jelly bean. Nor is there any of the brown/sugar molasses taste of my beloved favorite. But I still loved the flavor.

The chew was good. A little sticky, but again, it's all good.

One of the best things to come out of England! (After Jim and Cinabar, of course.)

Sample from company


180 calories per 50 grams (I have no idea what that equates to in terms of pieces).


No added salt, contains wheat, suitable for vegetarians. Halal.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mountain Dew White Out: DEWmocracy 2010

Mountain Dew, if nothing else, really likes to pump out the special edition flavors. And they are also really big on fan feed back.

The first DEWmocracy was in 2008, and had three flavor choices that fans voted on. Those flavors were: Voltage, Revolution, and Super Nova. The winner was Voltage, and it was added to the Mountain Dew line (and is still available today).

In 2009 there was another version of DEWmocracy that was run slightly differently. Rather than merely picking which soda fans liked best, fans actually got to help design the sodas. For a lot more in-depth info on that, be sure to read Bev Review's post on DEWmocracy 2 -- they actually took part in the testing.

Edited 4/29/10:
My thanks to the good folks at both Bev Review and Mountain Dew PR for chiming into to correct some confusion on my part. I mistakenly thought that this campaign was DEWmocracy 3, when in fact it's still DEWmocracy 2. There are apparently several stages in the world of DEWmocracy, and this is stage 5 of DEWmocracy 2. I think I need Bill Maher to do a show explaining this to me.
At any rate, thanks for clearing that up, and I am sorry to anyone who I might have confused referring to this as DEWmocracy 3 (DOH!)

The three flavors are Distortion, Typhoon and White Out. Because my local Shell station is ghetto, they only had White Out. So we are going to review that one while I hunt down the other two. I realize my local 7-11 probably has it, but actually getting into that store pretty much involves being jumped into a gang. And I'm sorry, guys, but I am just not that dedicated...though I do look good in red...hmmm...

Anyway, White Out is described as being a "Smooth Citrus Dew." Isn't regular Dew citrus? The soda is indeed a cloudy shade of white, and it smells vaguely like regular Mountain Dew.

Tasting it, I was actually hoping I would agree with Marvo's take. In his review (read it here) he said it reminded him of Virgin Smirnoff Ice. Maybe I shouldn't admit this out loud, but I happen to really like Smirnoff Ice. (I know, I know, my head is semi-hung in shame.) Dammit, Marvo, you owe me a bottle of bitch beer!

I didn't get the sense of Smirnoff Ice at all. Instead, it reminded me of regular Dew mixed with potentially noxious amounts of lemon flavored jelly beans, with the sugar level -- well, the HFCS level -- turned up to 11.

Personally, this flavor is just way too sweet. There is also a funky fake lemon aftertaste. The carbonation level is perfect -- nice and bubbly but not too strong. And of course it's a Dew, so you know that there is more than enough of that sweet, sweet, caffeine to go around.

I won't be getting this flavor again, but I am going to look for the other two.

When you're ready to vote -- or if you just want more info -- check out the official DEWmocracy site here. (Warning: Flash Player 10+ required.)


Local Shell gasoline station




280 calories per bottle.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Starbucks Vanilla Bean Frappuccino Ice Cream

I was a little afraid to try this ice cream. But I really like vanilla ice cream, and the thought of a new version excites me.

Why was I not sure about it? Well, first off, as big a fan of Starbucks coffee as I am, I don't like the cream based Frappuccinos. I don't like any of them; the vanilla in particular being my least favorite. And on top of that, I really didn't like the last of the Starbucks ice creams. I tried the Java Chip flavor. At the time of that review, several people wrote in to say that they preferred the old version of the Java Chip to the current version. Having never had the old version, I couldn't comment personally. But what I have found out since is that all of the Starbucks ice creams made prior to 2009 was made by Dreyers (Edy's), and the current versions of the product -- including the Java Chip I reviewed -- are currently manufactured by Unilever. (You can read their FAQ's here). So if you were among those who thought there was a difference in the ice creams...well, you were right.

What finally pushed me to try this version is that my local store had the little 3.5 ounce single-serve containers on sale (for $1.00!), and I didn't have much to lose.

So how is it?

It is an attractive vanilla, creamy white and speckled with vanilla bean. Definitely looks good.

As for the taste...meh. The initial vanilla flavor was goodish. It starts off rich, but it quickly degenerates into this weird malted milk, quasi-citrus, chemical funk. Does it taste like the drink? Kinda, but surely not in the intended way. Does it taste good?

No. It does not taste good.

I will give them points for the texture being much, much better with this flavor than it was with the Java Chip. It's super smooth, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it creamy. It doesn't leave that nice, fatty film in your mouth that super-premiums do -- but to be fair, I wasn't expecting that.

Maybe die-hard fans of the drink or those less picky about their vanilla will like this more than I did. Personally, I couldn't finish even half of the 3.5 ounces. Yeah, the taste was really that bad.

Albertsons Supermarket




170 calories per 3.5 ounce container.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rowntree's Randoms

My thanks to the great Cinabar of Foodstuff Finds for once again sending me some yummy U.K. candy to try.

Amongst all the wonderful things Cinabar packed into my latest box of goodies was this little pack of gummies (or "jellies," for those of you on the other side of the pond). What caught my attention -- besides the bright colors -- was how soft the gummies felt through the package. Also, the shapes on the package reminded me a lot of some of the fun Asian candies I have seen online at sites like J-List or at stores like Ranch 99 or Kam Man. My package also had this little gnome guy on it (has to do with a contest the company is running) that reminded me of the Travelocity "Roving Gnome." I was really hoping there would be a gummy gnome in the package because I liked the idea of posing him Flat Stanley style next to random objects.

Part of the fun of the candy is that each bag is a random mix of gummies and you never know what you are going to get in any given bag. Sadly, there was no gnome in mine.

There were lots of fun shapes and several different flavors. I picked my favorite shapes to represent each flavor:

Purple: This one had a taste that was sort of grape, sort of raspberry, sort of...currant, maybe? It's a good, juicy, fruity flavor even if I couldn't pin it down entirely.

Green: I was hoping for green apple -- but instead, it's lime. I give Rowntree points here. It's a completely artificial lime, but they still manage to avoid that industrial cleaner taste most fake lime has. Instead, it's like a gummy version of green doctor's office lollipops.

Orange: Zesty, but a little bit sour. Sort of like a gummy version of unmixed orange juice concentrate. That probably doesn't sound great, but it tasted really good.

Orange/White: This one is a combo of gummy and "foam" or cream base.

It has the same great flavor as the orange in the orange part (big stretch there). The white foam/creme has no taste as far as I can tell.

Yellow/White: The yellow is lemon. This may be the best gummy lemon ever. It's fresh and vibrant.

Granted, it's not quite natural, but it isn't completely fake either. Once again, the white base is tasteless.

Red: This was the lone flavor I didn't like. It was cherry, and it tasted like cough syrup and "red." But the color was quite pretty.

Lighter Red/White: I think this was supposed to be strawberry.

The strongest flavor was simply "red" from the food dye, but it didn't have the same cough syrup taste that the plain red had. The white base, again, is tasteless.

The texture on all of the gummies, regardless of flavor, was a very soft, chewy gel. The only difference with the gummy/cremes is that the creme base is harder and less chewy.

As a whole, this is a really fun candy. The shapes are cool, and they're very well molded. The flavors (besides the red) were really good and the texture was perfect. Hey Nestlé, we need our version of these!

Be sure to check out Cinabar's review here.

Gift from Cinabar of Foodstuff Finds.


164 calories per bag.


Contains gelatin, and may contain traces of dairy.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Too Haute Cowgirls: Fistful of Fleur de Sel

If long time readers know anything about me, it's that three of my favorite words in the world are Fleur de Sel. How do you not love salt, and how do you not love salt even more when it's paired with caramel, chocolate, and popcorn? It's probably impossible. So when Too Haute Cowgirls mosied off the range to ask me if I wanted to try some of their popcorn creations, I struck faster than an angry rattlesnake at a cowboy caught wearing his cousin as boots (or something like that). Anyway...

The popcorn is stuck together with caramel in nicely sized clusters, which are then covered in dark chocolate along with large chunks of toffee sprinkled with fleur de sel.

OMG! If life in the Wild West were more like this and less like about a dozen bad Kevin Costner movies, maybe I would regret not living there.

The popcorn is fluffy and manages to not pick up that oily taste and spongy texture that packaged popcorn tends to get. The caramel is buttery and you know it's there -- but it's not so strong that it overrides any of the other flavors.

The toffee pieces were crunchy and sweet, and complimented the caramel perfectly.

But it's really the salt that brings the whole thing together. It makes the cocoa in the dark chocolate stand out. It balances the caramel and the toffee, and it reminds you of the best part of really good freshly popped corn.

This stuff is truly addicting. And we actually blew through the entire bag while writing the review. So grab old Trigger and go get some...of course, if you're riding a horse to get to your internet connection, you may have bigger issues.


Sample from company.


Made in facilities along with dairy, soy, peanuts, wheat, and tree nuts are used.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's, Part 6: You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Yes, guys, this is the last post in the epic saga that was my trip to Ben & Jerry's. (And yes, after this we will be back to reviews as normal.) If you missed anything, please check out the links to the previous posts:

Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Week Intro
Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Part 1
Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Part Deux!
Gigi, Ben & Jerry à Trois
Gigi, Ben, Jerry, and a Trio of Gurus: The Saga IV
Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's, Part 5: The Man

After the excitement that the day before had been, what with the factory tour, the Gurus, and eating my body weight in ice cream...not counting the dinner where we were once again stuffed to the gills...and then fed even more ice cream...and getting to hang out with Erin, Angelique, Stephanie and Jackson long after everyone else had the good sense to get some rest.... Yeah, I admit I was starting to get that "Day After Halloween" feeling (and yes, I know it should be day after Christmas, but Halloween is my favorite holiday and that's the one I am always sorry to see end).

We arrived back at the Ben & Jerry's headquarters and were treated to a bagel buffet (I have to wonder if there was any irony there), and we got to hear more about the company's plans to fully convert to Fair Trade ingredients.

We also got a chance to meet the company's new CEO Jostein Solheim (fave flavor: Chunky Monkey -- fresh off the line, of course). Mostly he talked about how committed Unilever is to keeping the Ben & Jerry's brand as true to its core values as possible and how they will continue to forge ahead in the future. We also learned that out of the 400 brands that Unilever owns, Ben & Jerry's is the only one that actually has its own board and CEO.

I will grant you this was a unique meeting in and of itself, and I probably should have been paying a little more attention then I was, but I was distracted...which probably sounds bad, but...

You see, the table that we were sitting around had seats either facing a screen that a presentation was done on, or you could face the doorways with the glass panels looking out into the hallways. I am claustrophobic and I always try to seat myself looking out. So there is Mr. Solheim, graciously sharing his time with us, when I happen to notice that wandering about in the hallway outside of the room is a very familiar face. Luckily for me, I didn't have to squirm in my seat debating on which act would be considered worse -- walking out on the CEO in the middle of his talk, or running out on the CEO in the middle of his talk so I could have just one tiny minute to talk to the man in the hallway. I know it was only a few minutes in real time, but in my ice cream fueled, sleep deprived, impatient child like sense of time it was forever...but then the man in the hallway walked in.

Yes, folks, we got to bask in the surprisingly patchouli-free glow that was Jerry himself! I'm not sure how to describe the moment exactly, other than to say it was almost like Santa Claus rode in on a unicorn to a soundtrack by Barry Manilow (performed live, of course), only slightly more awesome.

Jerry shared with us some of his memories of himself and Ben in the company's early days. His favorite flavor -- which he says changes often -- is currently the Hannah Teter flavor. It also came out that Jerry himself comes to the building to use the computers. Being the dork that I am, I of course had to tell him that after meeting us that I was sure he would be following all of our blogs and our Twitters and our Facebooks... as a matter of fact, Jerry, I am still waiting...

He also allowed us to ask him some questions. One of the first was when he goes into one of the scoop shops, does anyone ever recognize him? Answer is no! But it probably doesn't help that apparently random guys go in all the time claiming to be Ben or Jerry. A lot of people took the time to ask really intelligent questions regarding the company's social missions, etc. And you know, maybe I should have too...but c'mon! You know this is me we're talking about, and I am now sitting less than two feet away from Jerry! No, there would be no questions about being green, no wondering if he could have done one thing differently what would it have, no, no. I looked Jerry, and I told him: "I just wanted to say that when you walked into the room, every fat cell in my body exploded in pure happiness -- thank you!" Jerry had a good laugh, the last of my "journalistic integrity" was almost buried, and right about then the P.R. folks decided it was a really good time to move to Scoop U for a group photo. Call me a dork if you want was worth it!

The relatively short walk from the conference room to Scoop U gave me a chance to catch my breath, as well as confirm with the very cool Dubba from On Second Scoop that this may in fact be the best place on Earth, and that we were both beyond excited to have met Jerry.

After rounding up the bloggers -- at least two of whom were really excited -- we posed around Jerry, and got this picture:

(Photo Courtesy of Lick My Spoon)

Jerry stayed for a few minutes more, but he had things to do and we had planes to catch, and sadly our time together was short.

But if you guys actually thought I was merely going to let this man walk away, you're insane. No, if I didn't let the Gurus off that easy, Jerry stood no chance. Yes, people, I hugged Jerry! (With permission of course.) I would like to thank Jerry for his sense of humor about it, and I am sure as soon as the restraining order is lifted we will be new best friends.

Alas, this also meant the end of our time at Ben & Jerry's. While I seriously considered holing up in the slide, only coming out at night to nibble on the test kitchen leave-em's and to charge my cell phone, it wasn't really a practical plan. And with a heavy heart and about five gained pounds, I did indeed eventually board that plane towards home. (That is a whole other story.)

So, besides five extra pounds, what did I take away with me from this trip?

I think maybe the most important thing -- as cheesy as it is going to sound -- is that I believe part of the reason Ben & Jerry's is so good as a whole, is that it really is made with love. I've said it before, but the people that work there really do seem to have a love and passion for their jobs that you don't see too much of anymore.

I went in having the sense that while the official company line may be "Peace, Love & Ice Cream," that the reality would be some Mr. Burns-like Unilever suit standing in a corner, grinning to his minions that they could fatten people up with Ben & Jerry's and then get people to diet it off with Slim Fast. And while I cannot prove that to be untrue...well, should it in fact be true, then Unilever at least hides it well.

"So, Gigi," you may ask, "does this mean every Ben & Jerry's review from here on out is going to be a big ol' hippie lovefest, just because they spoiled you rotten for three days?" (If that's all it took to get me to behave, my family would have cashed in on that a long time ago.)

The answer is hell no! In fact, if you read the Boston Cream Pie review, you would know the answer to that. Yeah, I admit that having actually met the people who work so hard to get that pint of ice cream from its "birth" in Vermont to my freezer in California, it is a teeny, tiny, bit harder to be snarky when I feel it's called for. But, as those in my real life would tell you, I get over that pretty quickly.

What they did give me was a once in a lifetime chance to see a place I had only been able to imagine. And they gave me a chance to thank one of the men responsible for some of the greatest ice cream out there. For these things, I cannot say thank you enough.

But because my Momma didn't raise no rude kids (the wolves that babysat us took care of that), I would like to take a moment and thank some of the people that made this trip possible:

First, the men themselves -- Ben and Jerry. Thank you for not being able to afford the bagel equipment all those years ago. I should also partially retract one of my prior statements. On one or two occasions in the past, I may have referred to you as "dirty hippies". At least in Jerry's case, I can vouch that he was quite clean, so I am going to just drop that to "hippie," at least in Jerry's case. As for Ben...well, you will just have to meet me, strictly to disprove the "dirty" part and not because I am a huge ice cream nerd and would love to talk about what inspired some of the early flavors. No, clearly that does not sound like me. Be warned, there will be hugging.

Next up the fabulous Ben & Jerry's PR team, Sean, Liz and Aryn: Thank you all for everything you did to put the trip together, supplying us with any information we may have needed, answering about 6,000,000,000 questions, and for getting that nice shuttle bus with the really wide doors after you fed us all that ice cream. I am still lobbying for my flavor to be made, Sean! I'm telling you, it'd be awesome....

Everyone at both the Waterbury factory & the headquarters office: Thank you for letting a group of sugared-up bloggers invade your workspace and covet your nap room. Your patience with us may indeed merit beatification.

My fellow bloggers for making the trip that much more fun. Be sure to check out their posts on our shared trip:

On Second Scoops Field Trip
Bitchin' Kitchen's On Location
Grub Grades Flavor Graveyard Trip

Lick My Spoons Pilgrimage

Lemondrops Ice Cream Confidential
Notcot's Graveyard Trip
Serious Eats also took on the Graveyard

My own bosses: Mr. Ed & Lorelei. Thank you guys for giving me so much time off, on what is amounted to practically no notice in our scheduling world. Bonus points for not laughing out loud when I told you what it was for.

But most of all I want to thank those of you who actually read my little ramblings. This would not have been possible without you, and I can't tell you how much it meant to me.

Thank you all!
Peace, Love & Ice Cream,

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's, Part 5: The Man

Yes, this is the epic fifth post in my series on my trip to Ben and Jerry's. If you need to catch up by reading the four previous posts, they are linked to below:

Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Week Intro
Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Part 1
Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Part Deux!
Gigi, Ben & Jerry Jerry à Trois
Gigi, Ben, Jerry, and a Trio of Gurus: The Saga IV

So, the question remains: How did two happy hippies who loved the company they gave life to end up selling out to The Man?

As with most stories, sometimes you have to go back to the very beginning.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield met as kids while students at the same middle school in Merrick, New York. Like all best friends, they had to bond over something, and according to their official bio, what clinched their lifelong friendship was being the two slowest, fattest kids in gym class. (I cannot throw stones -- my own best friend, Mr.X, and I achieved BFF status over Star Trek.) The duo stayed close through out middle and high schools, and then separated to go to different colleges.

Jerry was pre-med, and after graduation made two unsuccessful attempts to get into med school. Ben also pursued his college degree and worked a variety of odd jobs (including ice cream man, as fate would have it -- I would find it really funny if it had been with a Good Humor truck, because Good Humor also eventually ended up becoming part of the Unilever empire). Ben ultimately ended up combining his love of pottery and of helping people, and took a job as a crafts teacher at a school for disturbed youth. It was also while working at the school that he began to dabble in ice cream making.

Off and on during the early and mid-seventies, Ben and Jerry would room together to save on expenses while working at their various jobs and schooling. In 1977, the two decided that they'd give working together a shot, and they put their heads together to come up with ideas. They eventually settled on either going into ice cream...or bagels.

Yes, you read that right. Bagels.

Ultimately, however, the deciding factor was cost. Remember, they were not wealthy in those days. And as Jerry himself would tell us, it was standing in a restaurant supply store in New Jersey and seeing firsthand just how expensive the basic equipment for making bagels really was, that made them decide upon making ice cream instead. Can you imagine how vastly different an ice cream world we would be living in today had bagel machinery been cheaper a generation ago? So they took a $5.00 correspondence course on ice cream making, and began to formulate plans for bringing their idea to life.

The boys decided, quite logically, that a college town would be a fantastic location for an ice cream shop. And somehow, without the help of Google or Wikipedia (really, how did people survive back in the day?) they chose Burlington, Vermont as their site. After scouting the town for possible locations, they found an old gas station that they wanted to use -- but they were having a hard time securing a loan. Eventually, they were able to get a small loan of $4,000 -- and that, added to the $8,000 that they'd saved up in seed money to start with -- provided enough for them to begin renovating the station into a proper (or as close to proper as the Ben & Jerry's world ever gets) ice cream shop. On May 5th, 1978, the shop opened, and despite having to make it through a rough first winter, by 1980 the company was going strong...and in the next few years, would need to move into larger facilities.

They also needed money for those larger facilities (which would later become the Waterbury plant). As I mentioned in the first post, the boys found a law on the Vermont books that allows Vermont-based companies to sell shares of stock to Vermont residents -- which is exactly what they did, and thus they got the money needed to build the factory.

By 1984, Ben and Jerry had grown so successful that Haagen-Dazs actually tried to limit distribution of their ice cream. This prompted Jerry to start the first "What's the Dough Boy Afraid of?" campaign. A lawsuit was filed against Haagen-Dazs' then-parent company of Pillsbury. (Pillsbury -- and by proxy, Haagen-Dazs -- was bought out by General Mills in 2001). There also would be a second suit in 1987. Pillsbury lost both.

The company continued to grow over the years, adding ever more scoop shops and a wider distribution. People who had a clearer business sense than Ben & Jerry were brought in to help keep things soaring. No matter how big they got, both Ben and Jerry made a point of making sure their company was always on the front lines of social responsibility. They were "green" long before even Al Gore was pushing it. (In fairness to Al, though, inventing the Internet must have taken all of the waking time he had.) They worked with local suppliers to keep the products as fresh and pure as possible -- yes, they could have used dairy products with rBGH, and it would have saved money -- but that was not the Ben & Jerry's way.

In 1985, the Ben & Jerry's Foundation was formed. The foundation still exists, and uses portions of the companies pre-tax profits to fund community-based projects.

1988 is an important year in Ben & Jerry's history. That was the year they first started working with the Greyston Bakery (if you have had a Ben & Jerry's flavor with brownies in it, you have had Greyston's Brownies) Not surprisingly, the Greyston Bakery's social mission lines up pretty well with Ben & Jerry's. Greyston has an open hiring policy, and regardless of a person's past history, is willing to give a chance to anyone who may be otherwise considered hard to employ. They also have a foundation of their own that goes to things such as low income housing, day care, medical treatment. and other endeavors that benefit the community (are you noticing a trend here?).

1988 was also the year that Ben and Jerry were named Small Business Persons of the Year -- a title awarded by every hippie's favorite President: Ronald Reagan. (I can only imagine what the duo must have thought about that.)

The Nineties brought even more growth and success, although Ben formally resigned as CEO in 1995. Jerry himself had sort of come and gone through parts of the early '80's, although he did assume the formal title/position of Director of Mobile Promotions in 1987.

So the question remains: How did a company with the slogan of "Peace, Love and Ice Cream," and that operated on the credo "if it's not fun why do it?" -- with founders that are still talked about fondly, if not like family, by long time employees -- end up working for The Man? One thing you notice very quickly is that the vast majority of employees in both the Waterbury factory and the corporate office have been there forever. In this day and age, that's a kind of loyalty that is getting less and less common. I think it certainly has a little something to do with the perks that come with the job -- but it's more than just that. Even now, being part of Unilever, there is a sense that each employee is more than just another fudge chunk in the enormous pint that comprises Ben & Jerry's. These people are living, breathing examples of the principles that Ben & Jerry started the company with. They have gotten recycling down to an art form; doing work with one's favorite local charity/cause is not only encouraged but the company actually pays them for it -- every employee is given five paid days off to use to do good.

There are also frequent company-wide projects that everyone pitches into. They care about the company because in many ways they are the company. Now, don't get me wrong: I am sure there are days when they go home dreading ever seeing a scoop of ice cream again, or when the thought of actually having to go to work just comes in second to having a root canal. But I have a feeling they feel this way a lot less than most of us do.
(Side note: Dear employers of mine who may be reading this: I, of course, never feel this way, and I practically sprint out the door skipping on my way to work. I would never prefer dental work over a day at my jobs! That sounded totally believable, right?)
Having the company allowed Ben & Jerry to pursue their passions, to bring help to people, and to bring awareness to areas that at the time were not getting a lot of attention. Their working with smaller local farms and suppliers meant jobs for people that otherwise might never have had them. Even their own factories, office, etc., made them one of Vermont's largest employers. (Still not the biggest, though -- that title is currently held by IBM, if several different Google sources are correct.) And if nothing else, even if at the end of the day it came down strictly to the product they made, they made ice cream, and damned if ice cream isn't pure concentrated frozen happiness. Why did they give that up to a mega-corporation that, to be brutally honest, is not exactly known for being the warmest or fuzziest around? (And that could be a whole other set of posts, so we are not going to get started on that here.). So here we are the late 1990's, and Unilever is basically tossing around huge wads of cash...

This question brings two possible answers immediately to mind -- but are they the right answers? Let's see:

Answer 1:

Unilever is tossing around the Benjamins like cheap ho's in a bad rap video. Being tree hugging, free loving, VW bus driving hippies who also happens to run a major ice cream company is great and all...but like, dude, with that kind of money you could afford to have your own patchouli-scented Scrooge McDuck style money pool installed in your house...

So, did they really sell out for Scrooge pools of their own?


Answer 2:

Was the business floundering by that time, and did Unilever tie Ben and Jerry to the tracks like damsels in distress, promising to save them only if they handed over the company?

Considering that by 1999 the company had long had an international presence, and had grown from one factory in Waterbury, Vermont, to two additional Vermont factories as well as licensed facilities in both Canada and Israel. And net sales had increased 13.3% over 1998 sales to reach $237 million. And on top of all that, by 1998 they had felt so comfortable with what they were doing on their own that they were actually manufacturing Paul Newman's short-lived line of Newman's Own Organic Ice Cream (which died right around 2000). Thus, I think it's safe to say they didn't need anyone's help to pull them off the tracks.

So neither of those answers are really right. Basically, it comes down to the fact that Unilever made an offer the Board of Directors couldn't refuse.

Remember that Ben and Jerry had been selling stock since the early 1980's -- and as with most large businesses, there was now a Board of Directors to contend with. In the span of the late 1990's, several offers were made for the company by Dreyer's/Edy's (I can't say I am sorry that one fell through -- we probably would have had Ben & Jerry's "Fun Flavors" by now), and even by Haagen-Dazs. But Unilever, much like that bad date that just won't stop texting, kept in hot pursuit. Ben and Jerry did not want to sell to them; although it seems from all accounts that the Board was leaning that way. Ben, in an effort to save the company, had even proposed an offer that would cut Unilever in but leave himself and an investor group that he, Jerry, and others were part of in control, but at the same time would still keep the company privately held. Unfortunately, unlike the offers such as those made by Dreyer's (which would have basically meant that stock from the "old" company and stock from the "new" company would have swapped at the same share price), Ben's offer -- through business laws/rules/whatever that I don't entirely know how to explain -- would have caused the capital gains tax to kick in (i.e., massive money lost to the federal government) and no one wanted that. Unilever apparently saw this as an opportunity to weasel in as if Ben & Jerry's were that chick at the bar who just got rejected by the guy she really liked, and they were the guy she was trying to ignore. In the end, after offering her a drink worth $326 million, the company's proverbial panties hit the floor.

The Board overruled Ben and Jerry, accepted Unilever's offer, and the deal was closed on April 12th of 2000. (Ironically enough, Unilever also bought the Slim Fast brand on the same day). Unilever actually did call the next day and probably even sent flowers.

After the buyout, both Ben and Jerry relinquished any board or managerial roles they may have kept up until that point. But they still remain active with the company, even without any official positions or responsibilities. In a sense, they have became more like iconic figureheads to the company they gave life to. They also remain active with the company's causes, and they sometimes appear at special functions for the company or its charity causes, etc. And after 47 years, they are still friends.

As for the actual company and Unilever: Steps were taken during the merger to ensure that Ben & Jerry's vision and operating procedures would stay as intact as possible. I couldn't possibly do it justice to try to explain (again, that sugar high kicked in 'round about the time these topics came up), but the impression that I got is that while Ben & Jerry's is part of the massive Unilever empire, it still runs almost entirely independent from them. Essentially, you could think of it like this: Ben and Jerry's is that kid who has gone off to college, Unilever might be its parent (and paying most of its bills), but ultimately Ben & Jerry are doing what they want to. Unilever might be hovering in the background and sending care packages, but magically Ben & Jerry's cell phone gets really crappy reception when they call to check up on it. I am sure it is vastly more complicated than that, and not nearly as idealistic as I may have made it sound -- but let's remember this is still a food blog, and I am not going for an MBA here.

And that, my friends, in a not-so-short nutshell, is how Ben and Jerry's ended up working for The Man.

And speaking of The Man, tomorrow we wrap up my trip with our last day...which includes meeting Jerry!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gigi, Ben, Jerry, and a Trio of Gurus: The Saga IV

First of all, if you need to catch up, here are links to the previous posts covering my trip to Ben & Jerry's:

Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Week Intro
Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Part 1
Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Part Deux!
Gigi, Ben & Jerry Jerry à Trois

Now, onto the Flavor Gurus...

Every Ben & Jerry's flavor that you taste comes down to the hard work and dedication of the company's Flavor Gurus.

Now I know what you are thinking: "Gigi, there have been a lot of flavors where the nicest thing you had to say was that you didn't have to eat it again." And yes, yes I did say those things. And no, I still do not, and never will like Dublin Mudslide or Vermonty Python. (In fact, I would rather not even get the memory of them either.) But these are also the guys who came up with the Hannah Teeter flavor, Mission to Marzipan, and the new Dolce Delish. They actually have the official title of Gurus. Hey, even the Beatles had Gurus. Heck, it could be argued that Yoda was Luke Skywalker's Guru. So how could you not want to meet these guys?

At first they led us into a little room just off the main test kitchen, where they introduced themselves and explained what they did. This is also the room where whatever journalistic integrity Gigi may have had flew out the window.

We got to meet three of the Gurus:

From left to right, the Gurus are Peter, John, and Eric.

Each of them, besides having a very groovy tie-dyed lab coat, also has an extensive and impressive culinary background. Just thinking about what these guys can do with ice cream, I found myself wondering what it must be like to actually have these guys prepare an actual meal? OK, fantasy dinners aside, let's talk about the ice cream gifts they have bestowed on the world's taste buds.

Peter: He is the man responsible for Chubby Hubby. If you have ever had pretzels in ice cream, you have this man to thank. Peter is also the Guru I got to spend the most time with -- but we will get to that in a moment.

John: John may have done a lot of great things in his life, but as far as I am concerned, the thing that tops the list is that he is the man who gave me Mission to Marzipan.

Eric: Eric did Key Lime Pie, and with that flavor (which still does not benefit manatees -- and for all you manatees who have somehow not only learned to read, but found a way to get Internet access, I was pulling for a name change the whole time) came the heavenly meringue swirl.

If nothing else can be said of me, it's that I will go for the moment even if it means sacrificing that pesky little thing called dignity, and all three of the Gurus got hugs for the pleasures they have added to my life. I have to wonder how often it happens that writers hug them, but they were all really good sports about it. I can't help but be thankful for the fact that since I write for myself, I don't have to answer to an editor for that one.

We got to talk to the Gurus about how they come up with the flavors. The long short answer is that they are inspired by anything and everything. They do try to keep up with the flavor trends and put the Ben & Jerry's stamp on them. We also learned that it can take dozens, if not hundreds of test batches to nail a flavor down. Each Guru also has sort of a pet flavor they are working on. There was also talk of the flavors that were tried but just never made it. For example, Ben himself had really wanted a rose flavored ice cream. They went through batch after batch, making the rose flavor stronger and stronger -- until it got to the point where even Ben had to call it a day. (A shame, because I looooove rose flavored items.) They even have tried to make garlic ice cream. Then there was the proposed Chips and Dip, which would have been potato chips and ranch dressing. I, for one, am glad that didn't one make it, because we all know I would have picked it up to review it, and I really have no desire to eat ranch ice cream. (So far as I know, they haven't attempted a Spicy Nacho Doritos flavor.)

We also learned during the course of our visit how flavors eventually make their way to the Flavor Graveyard. The basic answer is that new flavors are given a year to prove themselves. Depending on how well they have sold, they are either kept in the lineup...or a grave is dug. For existing flavors, it again comes down to sales. You might have loved a particular flavor (KaBerry Kaboom, anyone?), but if you were one of only five people in the world who actually bought it, well... it's out with the old, in with the new. For pretty much every new flavor that makes it to the shelf, something that isn't selling well has to go.

Special or Limited edition flavors are sort of different in that they only go through one production run, and whatever is made then typically comprises the flavor's lifespan. But exceptions to that rule are occasionally made. The Hannah Teter's Maple Blondie, slated as a limited edition, has proven so popular that it is now on its second run.

Even with all that said, if there was a flavor that you are just dying to have come back -- or if you would like to suggest one of your own -- there is an online request that you can submit. And because I am so nice, here is a link to it. I can't tell you that it will definitely help bring your flavor to life (or back to life), but I can tell you that the folks at Ben & Jerry's promise that they actually read every submission.

But let's get back to the Gurus...

Not only were we getting to talk to the Guru's, but we were also going to make our own flavors with them! We were split up, four bloggers to each Guru, and we were assigned the task of creating a special flavor. We had known from the start that we were going to get to do this, but it just sounded too good to be true until it actually happened...and then it was even better than I had dreamed of. The marketing department (who we would be talking to after this activity) agreed to judge our finished flavors.

My group's Guru turned out to be Peter.

Peter very generously answered all of our many questions. One of the things I have long complained about in my reviews is that it in all of the flavors of late, it seems that rather than what would have in the past been pieces/chunks of chocolate, that fudge is being used instead. Turns out I am not going insane (well, not from this anyway), the change has in fact been made to fudge. (I did not think to ask when this happened, and I should have.) The official reason is that because oils could be added to the fudge that help the fudge stay softer than actual chocolate would; and had they used chocolate, the hardened chocolate would eventually lead to a different texture than was intended, and therefore the consistency of the product would be harder to maintain.

So why not just use real chocolate with oil added to it instead of calling it fudge? Good question. Actual chocolate is trickier to work with. Real chocolate must contain cocoa fat, A.K.A. cocoa butter. And cocoa butter is not such a fan of the cold and being frozen in general -- and sadly, other (less tasty) oils get that job done better. Because you can only alter real chocolate so much before it can no longer legally be called chocolate -- even if you are still using cocoa solids (having replaced the required cocoa fat with, say, palm or coconut oils), you can't call it chocolate anymore...and, well, you have to call it something. I will at least admit that fudge sounds more appetizing than the commonly-used "chocolaty."

While I understand the science behind the reason, and I realize it does make for a more consistent product, I am still holding firm that it doesn't taste as good. To also be fair, Ben & Jerry's are not the only premium ice cream to go the Fudge/Chocolaty route. Haagen- Dazs is also using "chocolaty" flavored chips in flavors such as Java Chip and Mint Chip (although other flavors are, for the moment at least still using real chocolate chips). My inner conspiracy theorist (and chocolate purist) does have a raised eyebrow (Colbert style, of course), and can't help but wonder in both Ben & Jerry and Haagen-Dazs cases, if we've somehow made it through many years with real chocolate in the products, why is it that only relatively recently has the opinion seemed to swing to giving up a "real" ingredient in place of something that's more on the artificial side? And also, as it happens conveniently enough, cheaper for them to use...cheaper ingredients, yet same price points as time marches on...just thinking out loud here, people...

OK, tinfoil hat off now...

Consistent product standards is a big sticking point for Ben & Jerry's, and that's one of the reasons some flavors or some possible ingredients just don't make it. For example, have you ever had really good bread dipped in chocolate, and thought that would be great in an ice cream? Well it probably would, except that you would have to find a way to keep the bread from turning into a ball of mush. Ditto potato chips, certain type of cereal bits, etc. Not to say they are not always trying to boldly go where no ice cream has gone before -- they are in always looking for ways to make the impossible possible -- but some things take a lot more work than others. And sometimes you just have to know when to say "when."

Holy Cannoli was one of those times. While long gone (we're talking mid-1990's, people -- and yes, I ate it while watching first-run episodes of Friends. I did, however, skip wearing flannel) it is still in my top 15 favorite flavors. As you may have guessed from the name, it was a cannoli flavored ice cream that featured real ricotta cheese, pieces of cannoli shell, and pistachios. What ultimately killed this flavor was that the ricotta just did not always take to the production process (it doesn't like being frozen), and it just proved to be to difficult to deal with. Ah, least I will always have the memory of my best friend and I's weekly Thursday night ritual of beer, ice cream, and the NBC line up.

The test kitchen itself looked like...well, like a big, ovenless kitchen. There were lots of cabinets and drawers (some of them were actually freezer/cold drawers), banks of fridges and freezers, and in those walls pretty much everything you could imagine wanting to find in ice cream can be found.

Peter and John explaining the finer points of ice cream making (above.)

We had basically anything we wanted at our finger tips, and my team decided that our flavor was going to be a sweet and spicy combination. Oh, and in true Iron Chef style, we only got an hour to take our dream flavors from our heads to the pint. And yes, they did count off the time. Sadly, this was not done by Alton Brown -- though probably for the best. I have a feeling that between the excitement of just being at Ben & Jerry's period, to working with real live Flavor Gurus, to being in an amazing kitchen, that had they thrown Alton in on top of that, my heart might actually have exploded from the excitement. And if they thought I went overboard hugging the Gurus...well, I could not be held responsible for what I might have done to Alton.

But enough about Alton...we've got ice cream to make!

Above are just some of the toppings at our disposal. There were blondies, brownies, fudge chunks, fudge peace signs, Heath bar bits, pralines, chocolate covered almonds, cookies, peanut butter cups, ginger snaps, white chocolate chunks, and cookie dough bits. In the beaker is vanilla.

And there were more things we could have asked for, not counting liquid flavors,liqueurs, fruits, nuts, spices and swirls. In fact, as we were talking about possible swirls, Peter let us taste one he is working on. (I am not sure if I'm allowed to reveal what the flavor was, so I won't.) While ultimately it didn't end up in our flavor, it was so good on its own that I would happily eat that just by its lonesome.

After putting our heads together with Peter guiding us, we decided that our flavor was going to be a powdered cinnamon flavored base ice cream (it would be less hot than using liquid cinnamon, and visually it would give little specks of spice that would look good). Added to that would be a little vanilla to round out the cinnamon. Then some chocolate covered almonds, pralines, and blondie bits. There would also be a caramel swirl and a secret ingredient: just a hint of Ancho chili powder.

It all started off with a cream base...

Then the powdered ingredients were whisked into it...

Once you've got things nice and blended, into the churner it goes...

Those little tabletop machines are super powered, and can churn out ten pints of ice cream in about ten minutes. The chunks are added after the base has been churned into ice cream. (During the churn time, we asked Peter another thousand or so questions.)

When the churning was complete, the ice cream was extruded out we collected it into a big stainless steel bowl. While one of us stirred and rotated the bowl, the other slowly added in the chunks (the blondies, pralines and chocolate covered almonds). Part of what helps make Ben & Jerry's chunks so good is that they are always added to the ice cream well chilled -- if you are a home churner, try chilling your chunks on your next batch. Huge difference, especially if you are using fruit or cookies. (Gigi makes a rather kick ass blueberry ice cream, as a matter of fact. And I can tell you from experience that chilling the blueberries makes for a much better finished product).

Once the chunks were mixed in, we had to get the swirl worked in and get the ice cream into the pints. With Peter's help, we got the ice cream into a big pastry bag, then we got a bag of caramel. And with three of us, we squeezed the ice cream and caramel into pints. To get a good swirl, the ice cream and the caramel get piped into the pint at the same time, and the pint itself needs to be turned.

Here are some pints ready to go into the freezer...but of course we had to taste it first.

Oh yeah, it was GOOOOOD!

The cinnamon was warm, but retained some sweetness -- which got a nice assist from the blondie bits. The pralines added crunch. The caramel was buttery and gooey, and the chili added a little pop of heat. If it had been entirely up to me, I would have ditched the blondies (as great as they are) and the almonds, and turned the chili up just a smidge. But remember, this was a collaborative effort, and I have to say that as a team we did pretty darn good! Did we do good enough to win the marketing challenge? Gotta keep reading to find out!

At this point our team was the last to finish, and we just made the time deadline. That, sadly, also meant that it was time to bid farewell to the Gurus. You know that look kids get when being forced to leave Disneyland? I had that look.

But it's Ben & Jerry's, and even moving away from the Gurus, you know there was still more cool stuff to come. One last hug for the Gurus, and it was back to the conference room where talked marketing.

While the marketing talk was quite interesting to us, I am not sure that all of it would be to you guys' taste, so we will skip most of it. But one of the things I will talk about is how the flavors are named. Naming a flavor is actually a joint effort, and there are many brainstorming sessions that pretty much any of the employees are allowed to attend. They all taste batches, and basically just start throwing out names.

If left completely to theiy own devices, the names dreamed up by employees tend to be, as they liked to call it, "Left of Center." If they can sneak in a cool reference or double entendre, they are happy. Sometimes it works (as in the case of Half Baked), and sometimes it doesn't -- the new Peanut Brittle flavor is a good example. The name they really wanted was Peanuts Envy. But sadly, it was already trademarked.

Marketing explained how some flavors that are now classics came to life because of suggestions sent in. Cherry Garcia and Chubby Hubby both got their starts in life thanks to rabid fans.

Speaking of Cherry Garcia, this was also the first celebrity flavor. The flavor had been suggested as an ode to Jerry Garcia (well, duh), and was developed and made without working with Garcia. The original pint art had Grateful Dead font and bears on it -- and apparently Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead's lawyers were not quite as flattered as one would have hoped. There was a lot of legal back-and-forth, and finally Jerry Garcia and Ben & Jerry's came to an agreement. Jerry Garcia generously donated his portion of the sales of the ice cream to a charity, and that in itself started something of a tradition.

In all of the celebrity flavors you see, such as the Elton John, Hannah Teter, Dave Matthews, etc., the artists have donated the proceeds that use of their names and or likenesses to charity.

Most of the time the flavor has already been worked out, and it's just finding a perfect celebrity match. Sometimes a flavor is tweaked for the celeb. Sometimes a celeb will go out of their way to request doing a flavor. Supposedly Snoop Dogg really, really wants his own flavor. (Can you blame him?!) I don't know how that would turn out, but I vow to be the first to review it should it happen. (Gigi has a surprising amount of Snoop on her iPod.) Oh, and sometimes bloggers lobby tirelessly for their own flavor to be made...c'mon, guys, you know you want to! We could donate to Lupus Foundation of America.

Finally, in case you're wondering where my team's ice cream come in compared to the other two teams: The On Second Scoop team did a lemon flavor inspired by a lemon drop that was really good. The Lick My Spoon team did a flavor they called a Choc-Work Orange, which was an orange vanilla base with chocolate cookies, brownie chunks, and a fudge swirl. (I did not get to taste it, but given my love of orange/chocolate, I am sure I would have loved it.) But in the end there can be only one...

Yeah, we nailed it! But it was a close call with the other two.

Marketing also gave us a special gift -- custom made pints to remember our trip by:


Tomorrow: How did Ben & Jerry end up working for The Man?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gigi, Ben & Jerry à Trois


OK, so now that I have had a nice rest, let's pick up pretty much where we left off.
Just in case you need to catch up here are links to the previous posts about the trip:

Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Week Intro
Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Part 1
Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry's Part Deux!

Once we got off the shuttle bus, we were dropped off in front of an enormous office building. I thought I got a picture but it appears that I did not. But honestly, from the exterior, it's pretty much like any office building. Heck, it could be this one:

As with so many other things in life, it's what's inside that counts...and the inside is pretty kick ass.

Even if they don't manufacture ice cream here, you know nothing but good things can come of a place that not only features a life-size cow sculpture (topped by stuffed cows) in the lobby...

...but also has a slide! And not just any slide, but a curly slide!

And yes, several of us did in fact go down it.

The place is enormous. They even have directional signs:

We were whisked (Whisked, get it? Oh, I am so funny...) into one of the many conference rooms. All of the different rooms, by the way, have names either taken from actual product names, or something ice cream related -- except for the legal department, which is still just called Legal -- aah, lawyers, that wacky bunch! I did take pictures, but my batteries had seen better days by that point, and only one came out:

Once in the room, we were fed again (we will never be able to accuse of hosts of starving us). But we were given a small reprieve from the ice cream (just a small one, though -- I promise there is a lot more ice cream to come) and we got to talk to the man who puts together the social incentives the company comes up with, and about his career with Ben & Jerry's that goes back to almost the very beginning. I have to apologize for the gentleman's name slipping my mind now -- I was on such a sugar high at that point that the facts started to blur. (Maybe some other nice blogger or PR person will jump in here and remind me). We also met Lisa, the self titled "Keeper of Stuff," who is in charge of keeping track of all of the Ben & Jerry's archives. Oh, but to be able to rummage around through her collection! The building is lined with all sorts of cool memorabilia of the company's past, and Lisa's dream is that one day there will be an actual museum.

Here's a tiny sampling:

It was time for a deeper tour into the building and talk about some of the perks of working there. Yes, I did tell you yesterday that there is a nap room...and below is photographic proof!

You can also get massages in that room as well.

Got kids or even pets you want to bring to work? (Or pets you consider kids?) They've got you covered there, too. There are rooms for not only kids but also pets. Or they can be at you personal desk/office.

If you are a breastfeeding mom, they have a room called "The Milky Way" in which you can feed or pump in privacy (for obvious reasons we did not enter or take photos of that room).

There is also a full gym, personal trainers, and yoga offered -- as well as free membership to a local gym.

If you feel the need for a midday game of foosball...hey, go for it.

And let's not forget that you are working for Ben and Jerry's, so there are freezers fully stocked with pints. All Ben & Jerry's employees are welcome to take home a whopping three pints a day!

There is so much room that they even donate office space to the Dream Program (which is a youth mentoring program).

The office is just filled with so much that I think we couldn't possibly have seen it all, even though we walked around several times. There's an area with computers set up should you wish to use some downtime to surf/check email, etc. (And yes, Jerry himself uses these computers!)

The area by the CEO's office is set up almost like an indoor garden. There's even a conference room at the top of the slide called the "Tree House."

There is even a life-sized, fully functional scoop shop where the company runs "Scoop U." Scoop U is where franchise owners, managers, retail employees, and bloggers who would like to go through the program (OK, I made that last part up -- but I would not object) go to be trained on how to actually run a store -- and the art of the perfect scoop. Incidentally, should you ever want to know, a perfect single scoop of any Ben & Jerry's ice cream should weigh 3 ounces.

That is also where the amazing PR folks magically made a couple of pints of the much talked about Flourless Chocolate Cake flavor appear for us!

Mini-review: If you like Chocolate Fudge Brownie, you will looooovve this flavor. It's like CFB dialed up to 11! Very rich and dark, with dense patches of cake. My local store is trying to get me some. There there may be more of an official review later; but to be brutally honest, I do not have a lot of faith in my local store actually following through.

Other cool things to be found in the office:

(One of the fab PR folks, above)

I really wanted to take this one home with me -- but it is almost as tall as I am, and they didn't seem to want to part with it. (Anyone who knows me knows I would in fact put it in my living room.)

To be fair, I have told bits and pieces of this afternoon out of sequence because I wanted to dedicate an entire post to what was the highlight of the trip for me: meeting the Flavor Gurus!

Wanna see the Gurus? Well then, you better come back tomorrow!