The Untold Truth Of Jeni's Ice Cream

Jeni's ice cream has spent a lot of time in the spotlight in the last two decades. From their involvement in Joe Biden's campaign and the creation of a special inauguration flavor (via Columbus Monthly) to a 2019 collaboration with Tyler the Creator (via The Lantern), Jeni's is well-known (and mostly beloved) by all. 

Created in 2002 by Jeni Britton Bauer, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams has grown from a single shop in Columbus, Ohio to the lauded artisanal ice cream of choice it is today (via Jeni's). Jeni's is now a multimillion-dollar company that has pioneered natural ingredients and creative flavors in the ice cream business (via Forbes), influencing the many similar brands that have come after it (think Van Leeuwen of New York and Salt & Straw of Portland). 

"We are challenging ourselves every day," Britton Bauer told CNBC. This is what makes Jeni's stand out. "I just think your life should be an adventure. I like being an explorer and I'm OK in uncharted territory. I'm OK being a little bit scared, I like it."

Who is Jeni?

Jeni Britton Bauer grew up in the Midwest and launched her ice cream empire from Columbus. Though she spent her earlier childhood in Illinois, she moved to Columbus as a pre-teen and has stayed ever since. "I love it here. I feel a connection. The city is growing and changing so much and I feel like I'm a part of that. Everybody here kinda feels like that," she told Forbes.

Britton Bauer's ice cream career started when she was young; at 15, she started working at an ice cream parlor where all the scooping and stirring gave her sore arms and blisters on her hands. "To this day my right arm is bigger than my left arm, and it all started back then," she told CNBC

Britton Bauer strongly believes in starting small and building slowly with what you have. Jeni's initially started at a farmer's market, where Britton Bauer said the low rent and access to farm-fresh ingredients helped her fledgling business. This slow, methodical approach encourages attention to detail and intentionality, both of which are essential to Jeni's success. "I started small," she told Forbes. "I kept very focused. My focus was always on ice cream and people, and getting better at those two things, over a long period of time."

The slow climb seems to have worked. Per CNBC, Jeni's now has 36 scoop shops around the United States and sold four million scoops in 2018 alone.

Jeni's really cares about flavors and ingredients

Much of what makes Jeni's ice cream special is the careful attention given to the ingredients that go into each batch of ice cream. Each flavor is specially created to enhance its individual scent, texture, and finish. The Jeni's website claims that while most ice cream makers make alterations to a base ice cream flavor, Jeni's builds each and every flavor from scratch. 

Jeni's has always been committed to using sustainable ingredients sourced from local purveyors, which makes their coveted pints a little more expensive than other ice cream brands. Pints currently sell for $12 on the company's website and they offer 27 unique flavors — from Goat Cheese with Red Cherries to Texas Sheet Cake. But, according to a company spokeswoman (via CNBC), this is also what sets Jeni's apart from the crowd. 

Jeni's is meticulous about the ingredients they use, down to the grass the milk-producing cows eat. The company once bought an entire strawberry field to ensure that the transaction stayed local. "But we apply the same philosophy of having a relationship with our growers to our vanilla bean grower in Uganda. We think the product does taste better," Britton Bauer told Food Republic.

Jeni's ice cream meets controversy

It hasn't always been smooth sailing for this company, and as the nation becomes increasingly divided, many businesses lose themselves trying to appease customers of all stripes. Jeni's has been popular among prominent Democrats such as Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi (via People, YouTube). According to Columbus Monthly, Jeni's pints are a go-to gift for Biden, whose campaign spent over $12,000 on Jeni's ice cream between August 2019 and September 2020. Still, the company has been hesitant to mix politics and dessert.

In January 2021, despite creating a special flavor of "White House Chocolate Chip" for Joe Biden's presidential inauguration, Jeni's claimed an apolitical stance: "It's about the power ice cream has in bringing us together" (via The Takeout).

Food writer Helen Rosner recently argued on Twitter that the brand's refusal to overtly engage in politics was at odds with much of the work Jeni's does behind the scenes — and creating an ice cream flavor in honor of the incoming Democratic president was undeniably a political move. 

"What's remarkable is that all the brand's *actions* point to remarkable political consciousness and engagement, but for some reason, there seems to be a need to assert a lack of politics," Rosner wrote. A few days later, on January 15, 2021, Jeni's released a statement on Twitter, "Our priority will always be making people feel loved, and that means keeping one another safe. We do not tolerate racism, violence, hate speech, sexism, ableism, queerphobia, or xenophobia."