Jeni Britton Bayer, the founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, is recognized as the creator of the artisan ice cream movement. Jeni Bayer is a highly respected figure in the food industry, from writing two best-selling dessert cookbooks, to being recognized as one of the most creative people in business in Fast Company. Founded in 2002, Jeni’s placed primary importance on creating the best tasting ice creams through using high quality ingredients. Acquiring high quality ingredients is reflected in the price of the ice cream, retailing for $12 online and usually $8-9 in grocery stores. However, once you try Jeni’s ice cream and taste the difference, it’s difficult to return to any other brand of ice cream. My personal favorite flavor is Brambleberry Crisp, a rich vanilla ice cream with swirls of berry and toasted oats, reminiscent of homemade berry pie. Is this treat delicious, ethically produced, and sustainable?
The ingredients for Brambleberry Crisp include: cream, nonfat milk, cane sugar, blackberries, black currants, crisp [enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin), oats, sugar, brown sugar, sunflower oil, salt, cinnamon], tapioca syrup, vanilla extract, sea salt, vanilla bean specks.
Let’s first focus on the ingredients we may not understand. The niacin, riboflavin, and thiamine mononitrate in the enriched flour are B vitamins that are safe to consume in small amounts. Next, the “brambleberry” jam is sourced from a local farm, Hirsch Fruit Farm, which Jeni’s has partnered with for over a decade. The farm is family owned and operated, starting in 1890 including four generations of the Hirsch family. As an ice cream brand, Jeni’s relies on milk and cream to make their products. Dairy production leads to higher use of water, land use for producing cattle feed, and greenhouse gas production, especially methane. To source their dairy, they work with Smith’s, who sources cream and milk from small, family dairy farms within 200 miles of Jeni’s kitchen. Though they do give an example of Berg Farms, a dairy farm given a conservation award, I would like to see more information that shows consistency across dairy farms, ensuring they stick to marketing of getting dairy from cows who graze freely and are milked twice a day. Overall, Jeni’s is extremely transparent with where they source their ingredients from on their website, including the products they use for other flavors, like where they source coffee, whiskey, chocolate, and peaches. They refer to the web of interactions they have with farmers and other producers as the fellowship model, emphasizing the importance of community connections. For their dedication to using sustainably produced, local ingredients that are Direct Trade certified, I’d give them a 2.6.
Jeni’s does not provide a high level of detail about what the process of making their ice cream entails. In a TedX interview, Jeni Bayer suggests that they lack some of the large machinery other ice cream operations use. Additionally, choosing to make the ice cream with natural ingredients and no added colors requires a lot of time in both general production and developing new flavors. Jeni’s has noted that “95% of what you buy in our shops is reusable, recyclable, or compostable” but doesn’t offer many other statistics. In 2019, Jeni’s stores began partnering with composting programs in nine different cities, so the expansion of their composting efforts are still recent. They are proud to announce that by Earth Day in 2020, Jeni’s has diverted over 100 tons of waste from landfills which is still a significant accomplishment. My main concern is Jeni’s advertising zero waste, but we don’t know the extent of waste in production and shipping. As of 2015, Jeni’s began making pint containers from paper instead of plastic, but no information on waste is offered for Jeni’s on their large scale grocery sales and nationwide shipping. Because there is an emphasis on progressing towards zero waste, but I still couldn’t find much information about the process of making the ice cream or shipping, I’d rate how Jeni’s is made a 1.5.
Jeni’s is a Certified B Corporation, actively working to improve their social and environmental impact. The company’s creator, Jeni Bayer, is still highly involved in the company and creation of new flavors, still pursuing her goal of making the best ice cream possible. Jeni’s relies on local, family farmers that make up the “fellowship” of supporting the company with the best ingredients. They actively convey a lot of their information to the public, providing detailed annual reports from 2014-2020 about what the company has experienced and achieved. The 2020 report shows how Jeni’s worked to change operations for Covid safety for employees, effectively preventing any cases of workplace transmission. They supported BLM, and the current CEO initiated a letter to city council from local businesses in Columbus, OH to show support for passing a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. This shows support for their reported 31% BIPOC workforce. These are just a few initiatives listed that show Jeni’s values support both environmental sustainability and racial justice. I trust in the impact B Corporations can have in setting a good example for businesses, and feel there is an all around positive company culture, so I’d rank Jeni’s a 3.