There are a lot of stories about who invented cookie dough ice cream. Was it a customer? Was it a manager at the store? We don’t claim that we came up with the idea. We claim that we were the ones that helped Ben & Jerry’s figure out how to put it into pints so that the masses could enjoy the magic of chewy, gooey, cookie dough ice cream.
On Becoming the World’s Cookie Dough Ice Cream Experts
It was the early 1980’s. My wife and I had opened up a frozen custard ice cream store and a friend of mine had a cookie shop right next to us. We were making ice cream cookie sandwiches and waffle sandwiches…basically, anything to make a buck back then. We were up at Ben & Jerry’s R&D facility one day and I saw a box of little pieces of cookie dough and learned that they were thinking about putting raw cookie dough into ice cream. It was one of those right-place-at-the-right-time moments. I said, “Why don’t I help you with that?”
It sounds easy, but back then no one had put something gooey and chewy into ice cream and that was the particular challenge. It took about a year and a half and a lot of trial and error. Ben wanted monstrous big chunks and the bigger the chunk, the harder it was to get through a fruit feeder. For a year and a half, we did 10 to 15 test runs at Ben & Jerry’s, where we’d bring our cookie dough and they’d try to get it to work on their machines.
It never worked. My favorite attempt story is when one of their Ops people said, “We’ve got to make these things hard as a rock,” and I said, “Well, I’ve got this little liquid nitrogen box, and we can put the cookie dough in there, zap it, and make these things super hard, like marbles, and then we’ll put it in the fruit feeder.”
So, we tried that one day and it was working. I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, we’ve finally figured this out.” The pints are coming out 50-a-minute, and it’s perfect distribution. Then all of a sudden, over by the ice cream pints the woman says, “There’s no ice cream coming out!” The hardened cookie dough that was probably 20 or 30 below zero had frozen all the ice cream in the pipes, leaving about 50 feet of stainless steel pipe frozen solid.
So that obviously didn’t work. But eventually we did figure it out and what I learned was that when you try to do something new, it takes more than one person’s idea. When we started to get more people involved and when the big boss guys stopped giving their ideas and asked for everyone else to speak up, that was when we cracked the cookie dough code.
It was April 15th when cookie dough ice cream finally hit the shelves.
Everybody had their taxes due and Ben & Jerry’s went to Boston and said, “While you’re paying your taxes, here’s some free dough.” And that was the moment of truth, really.
After that, I remember Ben & Jerry’s asked us for 400 cases of cookie dough a week. Then two weeks later we need to make 800 cases a week. Two weeks later, 1200 cases a week. Not long after that, they asked me for 4,000 cases a week and I said, “We can’t do that. We’re already making four times more than you thought. It’s only been a month!” They said, “Well, there’s seven tractor trailers waiting out there that only want cookie dough ice cream.” Obviously, we figured it out.
Most people can’t think of an innovation in the last 25 years that has been as dramatic as cookie dough ice cream. I received a lot of warnings when we first started. Everybody said, “Hey, don’t grow your business. Cookie dough’s like a hula hoop. It’ll be gone.” Well, that was 28 years ago.
One challenge with food manufacturing is figuring out how to grow efficiently and safely. For example, in the beginning, our mixer held about 50 pounds and today it holds 600 pounds of cookie dough. You have to balance increased capacity and speed with keeping quality exactly the same. Your favorite ice cream contains raw edible cookie dough, so our work on food quality, safety, and sanitation is our most important work.
We’re also laser focused on providing different flavors and unique final products to various customers depending on their tastes. Today, we have at least 60 different formulations, sizes, and flavors, from original to vegan, fair trade, low fat, peanut butter… the list goes on.
All of this to say, I think it’s fair that we call ourselves the cookie dough experts. What do you think?