What It's Like to Be a Ben & Jerry's Flavor Guru
You probably dreamed of being something nonsensical as a child, like a professional ice cream eater, or a surf detective, or a roadie for The Beets. But it turns out at least one of those fantasy careers is real, and Peter Lind lives it every day. Lind is one of five Ben & Jerry's Flavor Gurus whose days are filled with ice cream development and tasting. He's most notably the guy responsible for Chubby Hubby and Cookie Dough, so clearly he lives up to his title. Lind stopped by last week to give us a peek at the new Cookie Core flavors, but before he left, we asked him for some insider info on his insane job. Did he discuss a failed ice cream that tasted like Granny armpits? You bet he did:
On his Guru beginnings
"Well, I was a chef and there was an ad in the paper -- Ben & Jerry’s was looking for someone who liked to play with their food. And could keep good records. I’m still learning how."
On his children in the Flavor Graveyard
"Wavy Gravy was one. It was really good. Rainforest Crunch. Fred and Ginger -- that was a ginger ice cream with chocolate. I think it would do really well now, but this was a long time ago. They weren’t ready for it."
On sorting through the fan mailbox
"We look at all the suggestions that come in and we get like 12,000-15,000 suggestions a year. So we split it up between marketing and R&D [research & development] and everyone gets like a thousand. You go through and you pick out sort of the top trends you’re seeing within those suggestions. You might get pumpkin, you might get pancakes -- we have gotten pancakes -- you might get a lot of things. We end up with about 200 ideas. Then take them and break it down to a reasonable amount. We look at about 25-30 ideas. We split the team of five [Gurus], so everyone gets six [flavors]. And we start making them, and bringing the marketing people in, and we just do tastings at like 3 or 4 in the afternoon. It’s great. That lasts for about a month and then we end up with about eight or 10 flavors. A lot of times what we’ll do is take those out to consumers, maybe 200 consumers, and see which one rises to the top."
On important market research
"The five of us go out every year or so and we do a trends trip. We've been to Portland, Oregon, and Miami, and San Francisco. I’ve been to London. And then we come back and we make stuff from that. When we do it, we’ll usually do a neighborhood. We did it here in New York about six years ago. We started at the chocolate place in Soho, Jacques Torres. We started there, and I thought we were just going to eat chocolate, so when the chocolate came out, I ate like two or three truffles. But then they said, 'We also have ice cream.' And they had really good ice cream. So suddenly, we were trying six or eight different ice creams. And I’m thinking, 'I’m not gonna make it. It’s 11 in the morning.' But luckily we had to walk a bit to the next place. We did a bunch of places, probably 15 in a day. You have to walk, or you die."
On international discrepancies
"In the UK, we have a team for the EU flavors and they actually decided to break off a little bit. For instance, they have the same three new Cores, but their flavors are a little different because they said, 'People are not going to like the mocha, why don’t we just go all chocolate on the Boom Chocolatta?' It’s not even called that in the UK. It’s Whole Lotta Chocolate. So they completely branched off. I guess we did it to them back in 1776. It’s payback!"
On the worst ice cream he's ever made
"I know I’ve probably said this one before, but Ben came to me and he wanted to do a rose-flavored ice cream. He said, 'We’re working with a women’s cooperative in India and we want to do this rose flavor.' I said okay, I made it. And I thought it tasted pretty rosy. But I gave it to him and he says, 'Where’s the rose?' I bumped it up, it was really rosy. He said no, not enough. I bumped it up again, and I even put a little bit of cherry juice in from the Cherry Garcia cherries, because I figured if he saw pink, maybe he’d go for it. Well this time he said, 'I can sort of taste it, but it’s not enough.' At this point, I can taste the thorns. It was so freakin’ rosy! He was still convinced it didn’t have enough rose, so he told me to take it up to the scoop shop and see what they say. So I made up a tub, took it up there, and gave samples out for free. People had to fill out a little card. My favorite was the one that said, 'This tastes like my Grandmother’s armpits.'"