On a lazy Sunday afternoon, we drive out to Waterbury to the Ben and Jerry’s factory.
Perhaps it’s the chilly weather. Perhaps it’s the fact that a winter storm warning is pending, and Vermonters are being encouraged to batten down the hatches. Perhaps it’s because the ice cream production line doesn’t run on Sundays. But for whatever reason, the factory isn’t crowded today, and we walk right in, buy a ticket, and are immersed in the Ben and Jerry’s experience in five minutes or less.
For four dollars a head, we are led up a steep set of stairs to the mandatory “short video introduction.” Here, in addition to learning the folksy, home-spun roots of the company, we discover the founders sold out to Unilever, a massive corporate conglomerate, some years ago. The narrator assures us that, “thanks to a unique arrangement,” nothing has changed (but another video, playing downstairs, reveals the founders don’t have much to do with the vision or the direction of the company any more).
From there, we stroll to a glassed-in factory floor overlook. From the windows, we can look down at the silver pipes and vats. Our guide tells us which stations do what (and, oddly, a video, playing silently on two monitors, covers the same material at the same time).
When the obligatory Q&A ends (“What are your best selling flavors?”), we are herded into the sampling room, where we’re given a tiny paper cup about the size of a quarter, topped with a dollop of a single pre-selected flavor.
Total time between the launch of the tour and our exit into the gift shop? Less than fifteen minutes.
For all the rave reviews on Trip Advisor, I gotta say the Ben and Jerry’s factory tour is lame. Worse, it’s a bad value. That same four bucks will buy you a double-scroop at the ice cream counter up front (or at any Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlor anywhere on the planet). And, while it’s considered sacrilige to say so in Vermont, I gotta say I thought today’s ice cream was just … average.
Compared to other factor tours (particularly the best-of-class Tillamook Diary tour and the all-you-can-eat chocolate on Seattle’s Scharfenberger tour), the Ben and Jerry experience comes off as slapdash, stingy, and a bit past its prime. Not recommended.