Road Trip 2010: CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman's travels take him to where 250,000 pints a day head off for happy mouths.
Off the production line
WATERBURY, Vt.--Every day, more than 250,000 pints of ice cream come streaming off the production line of the Ben & Jerry's plant in this tiny town in the middle of seemingly endless forest. If this isn't ground-zero for ice cream fans, it's hard to imagine what is.
CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman made a point, when planning Road Trip 2010, of ensuring that he would stop through this dessert mecca, and on Tuesday, he made it.
At this plant--which is open to the public for daily tours--Ben & Jerry's produces 20 flavors, all of which come off the line in pints. The company has another plant in St. Albans, Vt., that produces other flavors and different size containers.
Unfortunately, due to competitive concerns, the company doesn't allow photographs of its production process because it is worried that other ice cream makers may figure out the secrets of some of its machinery. But it did provide CNET with three archival images of pints coming off the line. Pictured is organic vanilla, a flavor the company no longer makes.
On one side of the production room, all the ingredients--sugar, cream, milk and eggs--are mixed together. Then flavors are added while the base mix is still at a temperature of 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Then it is pumped into freezers where it is brought down to 22 degrees. At that point, flavors that have chunks in them will have those additional ingredients mixed in, and then the finished mix is pumped into "cups," the pint containers. Finally, the pints are sped off on a conveyor belt into a deep freezer where they are stored at minus 40 degrees until they are shipped out.
A view of the production room at the Ben & Jerry's factory. On the left side of the room is where the base ingredients are mixed. On the right side, toward the front is where chunks and swirls are added. And the pumping of the final mix into the pint containers happens in the middle.
Outside the plant, these tanks store huge amounts of liquified sugar, milk, and cream. The ingredients are pumped into the tanks directly from trucks and stored in the tanks until needed in the plant. The tanks are about two stories high.
Another look through a window down onto the production plant floor. On the floor, two flavors at a time can be made. About two pints come off the production lines per second. The flavors will generally be made for as much as 48 hours, or as little as 16 hours, depending on market demand. The production schedule is set weeks in advance.
Two pints at a time come off the production line. They are then funneled into a single pint column. Again, this archival image shows the production of organic vanilla, a flavor Ben & Jerry's no longer makes.
Inside the quality assurance lab, which is constantly running, the company conducts random tests and scheduled tests, and looks for things like milk quality, whether new ingredients can go in the ice cream, chunk distribution, and more.
Over the years, Ben & Jerry's has retired more than 300 flavors of ice cream, most because of poor sales. At the Waterbury facility, the company maintains a "flavor graveyard," where some of those flavors are memorialized.
Because much of the waste water that comes out of the plant contains high levels of fat, Ben & Jerry's pumps it into a large lagoon in order to treat it. The idea is to separate out the fat so that the water itself can be sent on to the Waterbury town waste water system. Without being treated, the water would not be suitable for being sent on to the town's system.
Since the opening of the Waterbury plant, there has always been a large globe hung from the side of the factory, perhaps signifying the fact that the Earth is important and that it is important to take care of it. Ben & Jerry's is well known for its philosophies on being as green as possible and treating its people well.