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Month: October 2014

Double Dipping : The first scoop

Double Dipping : The first scoop

The first scoop –  A $5 correspondence course and a social conscience

What is the recipe for success if you want to create one of the world’s most famous food brands?

Well if that brand is Ben and Jerry’s you need two friends, a $5 correspondence course, a $12,000 investment ($4,000 of which you would have to borrow), a social conscience, a sense of humour and …an ability to turn a problem into an opportunity.  

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were childhood friends from New York. Jerry went to college but afterwards found himself unable to make his way into medical school. Ben too had started college but soon dropped out. He tried his hand at becoming a potter but without much success. 

So, in 1977, the two friends sent off for, and completed, a $5 correspondence course on ice cream making, which they purchased from Pennsylvania State University’s Creamery. 

It was during this period that the pair discovered a problem; Ben suffered from anosmia  – the inability to perceive odour. A sense of smell is normally a key requirement for any budding chef and this could potentially have held the boys back. Instead Ben started developing recipes relying more on taste rather than aroma. This led to the brand’s adoption of its trademark chunky pieces and the source of many of its tongue in cheek names like Chubby Hubby, Chunky Monkey, Karamel Sutra and Cherry Garcia.

The next problem was where to open their first premises. “Our dream was to open an ice cream store in a nice warm college town. But all of those towns already had ice cream stores, so we ended up in Burlington, Vermont.”

Using a $12,000 investment, $4,000 of which they had had to borrow, the two business partners duly opened their ice cream parlour in a renovated gas station on May 5, 1978.

Right from the start Ben and Jerry were committed to doing good.

“From the very beginning, before we were even profitable, we always gave back. We sponsored events, like free ice cream day, outdoor movies and street festivals. Our business was ice cream, but our real mission was building community, making a difference, and having fun. Maybe that’s why our customers stuck with us through those long, cold Vermont winters. Two years later, when we started making money, it was only natural to support our loyal community with grants.”

In 1979, they marked their anniversary by holding the first ever free cone day, now an international annual celebration.


In 1980, they rented space in an old spool and bobbin mill on South Champlain Street in Burlington and began packing their ice cream in pints. These are distributed to grocery and “Mom & Pop” stores along the restaurant delivery routes that Ben had been servicing out of the back of his old VW Squareback wagon.

In 1981, the first Ben and Jerry’s franchise opened on Route 7 in Shelburne, Vermont (where Marco’s Pizza is now). In 1982 the old gas station was demolished to create a parking lot. Just before the wrecking ball was swung, the new Ben & Jerry’s on Cherry Street in Burlington was up & scooping.

In 1985, The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation was established, with a gift from Ben and Jerry & 7.5% of the company’s annual pre-tax profits, to fund community-oriented projects. Why 7.5%? Well, the pair were to explain later “In 1985 when we made our first public stock offering, our lawyers told us that we needed to tell the shareholders how much we were giving away, so we wouldn’t get sued. We wanted to give 10% of the profits away, but the underwriters refused, so we compromised at 7.5%.”

The creation of the foundation also formalised the concept of the “Double Dip – running a values led business and making money too”. It became the title for their 1998 best-selling book and, in the same year, the two men were announced as U.S. Small Business Persons of the year, an honour that was awarded by the then U.S. President, Ronald Reagan.


Next week – The second scoop : the post acquisition story – Ben & Jerry …& Yves


Would you reveal everything on-line?

Would you reveal everything on-line?

Toronto-based gold mining company Goldcorp was in trouble. Besieged by strikes and lingering debts in a contracting market, the company had terminated its mining operations.

Most analysts assumed that the company’s 50-year-old mine in Red Lake, Ontario, was dying.

Without evidence of substantial new gold deposits, Goldcorp was likely to fold.

Chief Executive Officer Rob McEwen refused to accept that the end was nigh. He took an unconventional approach and decided to break some of the unwritten rules of the mining industry. Instead of hiding the proprietary, and potentially very revealing, geological data, he decided to publish it on the Web for all to see.

In total it was some 400 megabytes worth of information about the 55,000-acre property.

He challenged the world to do the prospecting. The “Goldcorp Challenge” made available a total of $575,000 in prize money to participants who submitted the best methods and estimates.


Within weeks, submissions from around the world were flooding into Goldcorp headquarters. There were entries from more than 1,000 virtual prospectors in some 50 different countries. There were entries from graduate students, management consultants, mathematicians, military officers and a virtual army of geologists.

“We had applied math, advanced physics, intelligent systems, computer graphics and organic solutions to inorganic problems. There were capabilities I had never seen before in the industry,” said McEwen. “When I saw the computer graphics, I almost fell out of my chair.”

The contestants identified 110 targets on the Red Lake property, more than 80% of which yielded substantial quantities of gold.

In the end 8 million ounces of gold have been found, worth well over $3 billion. (Not a bad return on a half-million dollar investment.) 

The process also introduced Goldcorp to state-of-the-art technologies and exploration methodologies, and more advanced approaches to geological modelling. Goldcorp went from being an under-performing $100-million company to a $9-billion juggernaut. One hundred dollars invested in the company in 1993 is worth more than $3,000 today.


A man of vision, perseverance and curiosity

A man of vision, perseverance and curiosity

Having worked for Birds Eye on and off for the last 15 years and knowing something about Clarence Birdeye I thought I ought to find out the full story. Having done my research I can now say he clearly was…

 A man of vision, perseverance and curiosity

Clarence Birdseye was a man of vision, perseverance and above all, curiosity. By the time he died on October 7 1956, he held roughly 300 patents including ones for incandescent lighting, a harpoon for marking whales, an infrared heating process, a process for dehydrating food and a technique for converting sugar cane waste into paper pulp. He wrote a book on wildflowers, and was an expert at Chinese checkers.

He once said “I have more hobbies than the law allows. Some are sissy. ,Some have hair on their chest”.

However he is best known for something completely different – US Patent #1,773,079; a double belt fast freezing machine, an invention that gave birth to today’s frozen food industry and the brand that still bears his name. 

Clarence Birdseye was born in New York in 1886. He was the sixth of nineteen children!  Interested in zoology and botany he enrolled as a student at Amherst College but dropped out before the end of the course due to financial difficulties.

He began a career as a taxidermist, but his curiosity drove him to try his hand as an “assistant naturalist” and he later worked with entomologist Willard Van Orsdel King. Clarence’s role was to capture several hundred small mammals from which King removed several thousand ticks. King used them in his research which helped to identify the ticks as the cause of Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Deciding he wanted a new challenge Birdseye’s accepted a field assignment in Labrador in the Dominion of Newfoundland (now part of Canada).

It was here that he noticed that the local Inuit tribespeople would freeze the fish they caught under very thick layers of ice. This, combined with the -40°C weather, meant the fish froze almost instantly but more importantly when the fish was thawed out and cooked it tasted fresh and delicious.  

He immediately recognised the potential as the quality was far, far higher than that the frozen seafood that was being sold in New York.

In 1922, having conducted fish-freezing experiments at the Clothel Refrigerating Company, he started using chilled air (at -43°C) to freeze fish fillets and established his own company, Birdseye Seafoods Inc., but in 1924 the company went bankrupt due to a lack of demand.


He refused to give up and later that same year he developed an entirely new process which involved packing fish into cartons, then freezing these between two refrigerated surfaces, all done under pressure. Birdseye created a new company, the General Seafood Corporation, to promote this method.

In 1925 the General Seafood Corporation moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts where it employed Birdseye’s further refinement on his new method; the “double belt freezer”, in which cold brine chilled a pair of stainless steel belts carrying packaged fish, freezing the fish even more quickly.

It was this invention that was to receive US Patent #1,773,079.

This time his company proved a success as the quicker frozen fish produced better end results and by 1927 he began to extend the process to quick-freezing of meat, poultry, fruit, and vegetables.

In 1929, Birdseye sold his company and accompanying patents for $22 million to Goldman Sachs and the Postum Company, which eventually became General Foods Corporation, and which in turn founded the Birds Eye Frozen Food Company.

Clarence continued to work with the company as a consultant, further developing frozen food technology, but now he also had the time and money to indulge his curiosity in all his other ‘hobbies’.  

Heads or tails?

Heads or tails?

“Heads and we’ll start a casserole café; Tails and it’ll be the beauty boutique.” Jean and Jane Ford’s future rested on the toss of a coin.

After graduating from Indiana University, Jean and Jane, six-foot-tall identical twins, moved to New York to try and break into the modelling world. While they got some I.Magnin and Macy’s catalogue work they had to supplement this with sales clerking and apartment cleaning. 

So, in 1973, they decided to move to San Francisco. “I came to find a husband,” Jane has later admitted, while Jean felt she needed to move before she was shoved! “I came because I’d burned every bridge with my partying. Oh, honey—reckless abandon. I loved every minute of it. Whatever happened to Quaa­ludes? Those were great days.” 

A year later they got what was to be their most famous modelling assignment as the girls in the Calgon Bath Bead commercials. “They’d wanted blond twins,” the distinctly brunette Jean says, “and couldn’t find any that could talk. So they showed us a script and said, `They can speak! Sign them up!’ It was a major gas.”

A couple of years later, and after receiving a stern “Don’t waste your education” letter from their mother, they decided they’d  better try and put their modelling? to good use. After much discussion it came down to two ideas. Unable to make up their minds they agreed to leave the final choice to chance – the toss of a coin: heads they’d open a casserole café; tails a cosmetics store. 

Tails it was, and in 1976 the sisters opened “the Face Place” in San Francisco’s Mission District.

The transition from beauty place to cosmetics brand started soon after with an unusual request from an unusual customer. 


Jean picks up the story…

 “One morning, a worn-out stripper walked into the store. Her shirt, some tie-dyed thing. The fishnets broken up. She was wasted. She put both arms on the counter, and she said, `Hiii.’ Drunk. She said, `I need somethin’ special,’ something to keep her nipples pink. Apparently, whatever she was applying was wearing off mid-performance because, ‘when I dance, I sweat.'”

“So Jane and I looked at each other and said, `We have that. It’s just not here right now. Come back tomorrow. Jane came over to my apartment, and we got a bunch of red food coloring, glycerin, rose petals…and we put it in the blender and boiled it down to a reduction. It was so strong!”

They poured some into two little glass vials that had corks in them. Jane drew a rose and added the words “Rose tint” and they glued it onto the bottles.

Jane recalls: “The gal comes in the next day—same outfit—to get her goods. She came back a week later and said, `I’ve run out, and all my friends want it.’ She said, `My tribe needs this.’ We said, `Friday we’ll have 24 more bottles for your weekend.'”

From there demand took off and, as Jean remembers, it was initially a very targeted crowd. “Strippers, ballerinas, gay guys, all coming in: `I want that Rose Tint'” but soon it began selling to a much wider audience. It was renamed Benetint in 1990 and is now marketed as a lip and cheek stain. It is still the brand’s best-seller with over 10 million bottles sold to a clientele that now includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, and romance novelist Danielle Steel. 

The brand was renamed in 1990 and is now known globally as benefit and it lives by the girls’ own quirky philosophy – 

The Benefesto

We believe in whistling while you work it

And faking it ‘til you make it


We believe in fast & fabulous beauty solutions

And that glamour is grabbing life by the giggles

And not letting go


We believe if at first you don’t succeed, apply more lipstick

That sexy gets you everywhere

And if you can’t be good be gorgeous


We believe laughter is the best cosmetic!