Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream is both an American icon and a crowd-favorite. The forward-thinking company won over the country with its whimsical flavors and loveable hippie founders, eventually expanding the generic chocolate-and-vanilla culture to new classics such as Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. And while it took the company nearly 40 years to offer a non-dairy option—leaving vegans and dairy-free consumers hungry for more—Ben & Jerry’s was, notably, the first national dairy-based ice cream brand to eventually do so. This revolutionary move in 2016 sparked similar decisions amongst other popular ice cream brands, continuing Ben & Jerry’s legacy as an iconic player in the world of frozen desserts. While it is still not the largest producer of non-dairy ice cream (that title goes to beloved vegan brand So Delicious), its leaders have set a goal to be the leading producer of non-dairy ice cream in the US. John Henry Siedlecki, Head of Marketing Operations for North America, gave us the scoop on the future of Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy department.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Finding freezer space
According to consumer analytics database Nielsen, the US non-dairy ice cream market is a $187 million industry—and growing fast. Today, it’s abnormal for a major ice cream company to not offer a vegan option, as every brand from Target’s Archer Farms to Häagen-Dazs has jumped on the trend. Further, the prevalence of completely vegan ice cream companies is also increasing, with brands such as Nada Moo! and So Delicious releasing new options on the regular. This abundance of frozen treats is a blessing for consumers, but a challenge for companies. Despite the stiff competition, Siedlecki is confident that Ben & Jerry’s will continue to earn its shelf space on the increasingly crowded freezer shelves. “What allows Ben & Jerry’s to stand out in the non-dairy space is what makes the brand so special overall. We deliver euphoric flavor combinations with amazingly creamy texture that are fully loaded with Chunks and Swirls,” Siedlecki told VegNews.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Fans for life
Siedlecki also pointed out that the company has a built-in audience. He explained that many of Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy customers had fallen in love with the brand prior to going vegan, and they can’t get to the store fast enough whenever the company announces a vegan version of a childhood favorite, such as Chocolate Fudge Brownie. The company is also introducing unique flavors to the non-dairy ice cream space, such as Chocolate Caramel Cluster and Peanut Butter Half Baked. In total, the company currently has 11 nondairy pint options. According to Siedlecki, the top three best-sellers are Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Cherry Garcia, and PB & Cookies, though this may change with the recent introduction of the cult classic Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Free Cone Day
It would be remiss to discuss Ben & Jerry’s without acknowledging Free Cone Day. Another example of the company’s pioneering and community-focused mindset, this unofficial holiday was first celebrated in 1979, just one year after the company founded its first scoop shop. Ben & Jerry’s has continued this tradition throughout the years, offering a complimentary cup or cone to anyone willing to wait in line. While all 11 flavors are available in stores, the selection of non-dairy options rotates seasonally in scoop shops. This year on Free Cone Day, those seeking non-dairy flavors will have their choice of Non-Dairy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough or Coconut Almond Fudge Chip. Siedlecki gave us some insider advice: “There is no limit to the number of times people can get in line! Some people get a cone and go right back to the end of the line.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The inside scoop
Ben & Jerry’s started the non-dairy ice cream trend in 2016 with four craveworthy almond milk-based flavors, and it has continued to build upon this base. Each new vegan flavor sparks a flurry of media attention and a mandatory run to the nearest grocery store, but customers are still craving more. For those who can’t wait for non-dairy core or light pints, Siedlecki encourages them to speak up. When asked how to request a new non-dairy product, he commented, “Well, you can always start a Change.Org petition, which is what our fans did when they wanted us to get into the non-dairy space, or you can call or write in with suggestions on flavors. We take all the ideas we get and vet them as part of new flavor development every year.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Company favorites
We had to ask if one gets tired of eating ice cream if one works at an ice cream company. Not Siedlecki. Of all the non-dairy flavors, he said the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough is his favorite, claiming, “You just can’t beat the original!” When asked the essential question of cup or cone, he logically replied, “Cone, because you can’t eat the cups yet—unless a waffle cone bowl is an option, and then I’ll take that one!”

 

Tanya Flink is a Digital Editor at VegNews as well as a writer and fitness enthusiast living in Orange County, CA.

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