Jerry Greenfield hails from the United States of America and is a philanthropist and businessman. He is the famous co-founder of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Holdings, Inc. Along with his friend Ben Cohen (who is four days younger to him and born in the same hospital) he started the first Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop in an old renovated gas station at Burlington, Vermont. They were both 27 years old when they started the venture. Both the friends shared a mutual interest in food and wanted to do something profitable in the food business. Initially, they had planned to sell bagels but later they decided to engage in the ice cream business because of lower start-up cost. The ice cream venture attained huge success within a short period of time and within five years franchises came up in different locations. In 2000, the co-founders traded their ice cream business to multinational food giant Unilever for $325 million; however, they continued to remain active in the business. Greenfield is presently the President of the Trustees for the Ben and Jerry Foundation. He also has a seat on the board of the Institute for Sustainable Communities. Together, Greenfield and Cohen have established a new kind of business that helps find ways to bring about social, institutional and environmental changes.
Childhood & Early Life
Jerry Greenfield was born into a Jewish family on March 14, 1951, in Brooklyn, New York. His father was a stockbroker.
Soon, his family moved to Merrick, Long Island, where he attended Smith Street Elementary and Merrick Avenue Junior High School. It was here that during a gym class he met his future business partner Ben Cohen. Both Jerry and Ben were some of the widest kids in the class; they immediately connected and developed a deep bond of friendship.
Later, Jerry attended Calhoun High School along with Cohen. He was a meticulous and hardworking student throughout high school. As expected, he chose to study pre-med for graduation.
In 1969, he joined Oberlin College and finally left Long Island, the place where he grew up and spent most of his youth. In college, he worked as an ice cream scooper in his spare time.
He graduated in 1973 but failed to enter medical school. He then returned to New York where he worked as a lab technician and stayed with Cohen.
In 1974, he once again failed to enter medical school and decided to move to North Carolina with his wife-to-be, Elizabeth Skarie. There, he continued to work as a lab technician.
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In 1976, Jerry Greenfield moved back to New York to live with Ben Cohen again. It was then that the two friends dreamt of starting a business. Being food enthusiasts, they wanted to do something in the food business.
They explored the possibility of selling Bagels. However, they soon decided to start an ice cream business because of the low cost of equipments. Together, they underwent a five dollar correspondence course in ice-cream making and opened the Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlour in a renovated gas station at Burlington, Vermont, in the summer of 1978.
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was an instant hit and they began selling their product out of Greenfield’s car. In 1980, they experienced success in distributing their ice cream to restaurants. Soon, they moved to a bigger place, packaging ice cream in pint size containers. In the next five years, they also opened franchises in the neighbouring states.
Their product’s fame was such that in 1984 they had to fight a legal war with Pillsbury, the parent company of Häagen-Dazs—an ice cream brand. Pillsbury was overwhelmed by the growing success of Ben & Jerry and had tried to restrict their distribution. Ben and Jerry eventually won the battle.
By 1986, Ben & Jerry constructed a manufacturing unit in Waterbury and donated 7.5 percent of the company’s earnings to their non-profit, Ben & Jerry’s Foundation which benefited various causes.
Their extraordinarily titled ice cream flavours such as ‘Chocolate Therapy’, ‘Cherry Garcia’ and ‘From Russia with Buzz’ brought in much success and their annual sales reached nearly $250 million by the year 2000.
In the year 2000, they sold the business for over $325 million to multinational food giant, Unilever. The sale agreement allowed the continuation of Ben & Jerry’s brand integrity and philanthropic apparatus, a rare clause for an agreement of such magnitude. Both the co-founders are still a part of the business, though they claim to have no responsibility and authority over the daily work.
Jerry Greenfield also occupies a seat on the board of Institute for Sustainable Communities, Businesses for Social Responsibility and True Majority.
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The book ‘Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book’ co-authored with Nancy Stevens and published 1987 tells admirers the story of how the firm was started by the two childhood friends and their journey to success.
In ‘Ben & Jerry’s Double Dip: How to Run a Values-Led Business and Make Money, Too’ published 1997, Cohen and Greenfield show the way to create values-led business that is profitable for both the owner as well as the community.
Awards & Achievements
Apart from expanding their business in the last decade of the 20th century, Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen also became famous for their philanthropic activities. They received the James Beard Humanitarians of the Year Award in 1993 and the Peace Museum’s Community Peacemakers of the Year Award in 1997.
Personal Life & Legacy
Jerry Greenfield married Elizabeth Skarie in 1987 and the next year the couple had a son named Tyrone.
Jerry presently lives in Williston, Vermont, which is a small town just outside of Burlington.
In college, his favourite class was ‘Carnival Techniques’ wherein he learnt several tricks such as eating fire. He claims to still practice fire eating on rare occasions.
Before starting ‘Ben & Jerry’, the five dollar fees incurred for the ice cream making correspondence course, was split between him and Cohen.
As of 2015, Jerry Greenfield has an estimated net worth of $150 million.