Jeni Britton Bauer’s ice cream is a hit thanks to painstakingly sourced ingredients and carefully crafted flavors. And unlike many of her competitors, she makes the base from scratch. She also goes to extreme lengths to ensure quality, such as baking cakes herself for her pineapple upside-down cake frozen yogurt. The Columbus, Ohio, company’s product is sold by more than 1,700 U.S. retailers, and it’s on track to sell more than a million pints this year. (Jeni’s Splendid also operates 16 shops in six cities.) Here’s how she’s won so many converts.
In college, you were an art student. How did that translate into ice-cream making?
When you study art, everyone tells you that you’ll never have a career, that you should study something more practical. I was thinking maybe I would go to pastry school. I’d also been thinking about becoming a perfumer. I decided to [treat ice cream like] an edible perfume–butterfat melts on contact with your tongue and releases scent into your nose. I quit school and started my first ice-cream business six months later with a friend. That was 18 years ago.
How do you create flavors?
I write all the recipes. If we really like something, I will parade it around the office and get everyone’s opinion. We’ve always listened to customers. And I’m in love with pop culture. For example, I was inspired by the movie Drive. I spent a week riding around L.A. in a big car listening to the soundtrack. It influenced our Dark Holiday collection, which were heavy and imposing ice creams meant to make you feel small in the context of space and time. I love that movie. Does your focus on local, seasonal ingredients ever cause complications? Constantly. Everybody wants strawberry ice cream in April, but strawberries really aren’t ready until June. The past couple of years we went to a strawberry grower outside Nashville. Their season starts about six weeks earlier than ours, generally.
Jeni’s Splendid is a B Corporation, which means you adhere to certain pro-social guidelines. Why is that important to you?
Everything we do is about making better ice cream. Being a B Corporation helps us achieve that mission–it’s not about the profit. We have an almost punk-rock focus on making our community better, wherever we are. We applied for B Corporation status and got it without changing anything we do or believe. Business can be a powerful force for good: to make better ice creams, to bring people together, to build resources to make communities better. We need profit to continue, but we know that as we grow and build scale, that will happen naturally.