Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream is one of the fastest-growing ice cream brands in recent history. The Columbus-based company has amassed a large following, including many celebs and politicians.
From Lebron James to President Joe Biden, everyone seems to love the creative & original ice cream flavors. Popular options include almond milk cortado, pistachio and honey, and salty caramel (but can you really go wrong with any of the flavors?).
The company was founded by Jeni Britton Bauer in 2002 & now Jeni’s has 47 branded stores and nationwide distribution at over 3000 retailers. You can find glorious pints of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream at stores like Target & Whole Foods in addition to their scoop shops. So, how did Jeni Britton Bauer turn ice cream into a business empire? Let’s find out.
Making and Selling Perfume Leads to a Discovery
The story of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams starts back at Ohio State University. Jeni Britton Bauer was studying art history and fine arts at the university when a friend randomly gave her several vials of scented chemicals. She was fascinated by the scents and soon began gathering essential oils to make perfume.
Britton Bauer continued to study while making and selling perfume for a few years. She experimented with different oils to create original scents that she thought people would get excited about. While experimenting with perfumes, she decided to try combining the essential oil of cayenne pepper with chocolate ice cream.
Jeni Britton Bauer created her first ice cream flavor: spicy frozen chocolate ice cream, without immediately realizing it. She quickly discovered that ice cream was actually the perfect carrier of scent. She soon started trying other combinations of essential oils and flavors to see what stood out.
The discovery gave Jeni Britton Bauer a quintessential “lightbulb” moment.. a new business idea. Instead of making and selling perfumes, she’d make and sell ice cream. Just two weeks later, she dropped out of college to pursue her intriguing business idea.
Scream Ice Creams Opens in Columbus
Jeni Britton Bauer felt ready to launch her first ice cream business. Unfortunately, finding the right spot wasn’t as easy as it would seem.
Britton Bauer attempted to open a stall at the North Market in Columbus but was repeatedly rejected. The market didn’t think that an ice cream shop was the right fit. Luckily, they changed their minds after watching a PBS special about an ice cream shop at a farmer’s market.
Britton Bauer opened Scream Ice Creams at the North Market in 1996. The North Market is the culinary hub of Columbus, Ohio. The covered farmer’s market has dozens of shops & stalls and often serves as an incubator for new food businesses.
Britton Bauer would prepare a new batch of curated ice cream each day at her shop. She’d make whatever flavor she was in the mood for, instead of offering a variety of flavors. As with her original spicy chocolate ice cream, Britton Bauer continued to focus on finding interesting combinations of scents & flavors. Some of the first flavors included wildberry lavender and salty caramel (which are still popular today!).
Britton Bauer purchased ingredients from other merchants at the market and prepared the ice cream at her counter; she kept at it for four years. However, she was unfortunately struggling to make ends meet.
Britton Bauer Goes Back to School
Jeni Britton Bauer had learned a lot during her four years running Scream Ice Creams, though. She also realized that she had a lot to streamline, which led her to shut down Scream and go back to school.
Britton Bauer attended an ice cream course at Penn State and redeveloped her business plan. She wanted to avoid repeating the same mistakes, such as only serving a single flavor of ice cream each day.
She soon got a job at the North Market — the same place where she had opened her Scream Ice Creams stall. Jeni also devoted herself to researching the science behind ice cream making. Around this time, Britton Bauer’s boyfriend gave her an Italian gelato machine, allowing her to continue experimenting with ice cream from home.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams Opened in 2002
Jeni Britton Bauer was ready to relaunch her ice cream business but under a new name. The company would be called Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Unfortunately, Britton Bauer ran into a familiar problem. The owners of the North Market continued to reject her proposal for an ice cream shop for an entire year.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams officially opened at the North Market in 2002. Instead of offering a single flavor, Jeni now offered several options. Jeni also overhauled her entire look.
When she ran Scream Ice Creams, Jeni was often seen bustling around the market with her bright pink hair. Before opening her new shop, Jeni cut her hair, dyed it brown, and bought starched white kitchen shirts. She decided that if she was going to offer unusual flavors, she should keep the rest of the brand image simple.
The shop was immediately successful. At first, Jeni and her boyfriend Charlie handled the entire operation. By the end of the first year, Charlie’s brother joined the couple to help keep up with demand.
What Makes Jeni’s Ice Cream Popular?
Entrepreneurs need to offer something unique when entering a crowded market, such as the ice cream industry. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream stands out due to its creative & original recipes. Few other companies offer flavors as diverse as gooey butter cake and brambleberry crisp.
Unlike most ice cream recipes, Jeni’s ice creams don’t typically include egg yolks. Jeni believes that the yolks give the ice cream a slightly chalky taste. She also keeps gums and carrageenan out of her ice creams. These ingredients are often used to increase the shelf life of ice creams, but also give the food a sticky texture.
Along with a recipe that produces dense, creamy ice cream, Jeni Britton Bauer creates distinctive flavors. The use of essential oils to bring out the unique characteristics of different flavors is part of the charm of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
Jeni’s Ice Creams Opens a Production Facility
Jeni, her boyfriend (now husband), and her future brother-in-law continued to run the shop for several years before the company hit a snag. In 2005, a state regulator informed the group that they lacked the necessary license to produce ice cream at the market.
Instead of preparing the ice cream at their shop, they needed to open a separate ice cream production facility. They then opened a kitchen where they could produce ice cream which they then sold at the North Market.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams would soon open a second production facility. The second kitchen included 10,000 square feet of space and caould produce 4000 pints per day. All pints are hand-packed and hand-labeled before shipping to shops around the country.
The company also started sourcing ingredients from local companies to support other businesses as well. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams sources grass-fed milk from Snowville Creamery, cheese from Oakvale Creamery, and vodka and whiskey from Middle West Spirits.
Critics Love Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
After opening a production facility, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams started expanding from the North Market in Columbus to other parts of the state. The brand was becoming well known in cities throughout Ohio and had developed a large following.
Jeni’s was also starting to receive national exposure as time went on. The company was featured in an episode of Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” The exposure led to reviews in many other additional publications.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams was reviewed in the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, US News and World Report, the New York Times, and Time magazine between 2011 and 2012.
By 2012, a decade after launching, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams had opened seven shops in the Columbus area. The company also had another shop in Cleveland. However, the company didn’t rush the process of opening new locations.
Jeni Britton Bauer and her business partners have always been strategic when choosing locations. Instead of trying to become a national brand overnight, Britton Bauer has focused on slow, steady growth. She built her brand in Columbus before gradually expanding to other parts of the state and beyond.
Jeni Britton Bauer Becomes a Best-Selling Author
Jeni Britton Bauer decided to share her knowledge with the world as things progressed. In 2011, she released her first cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. The book soon became a New York Times best-seller and earned Jeni the James Beard Award.
The cookbook is now considered one of the best sources of advice for those who are interested in making ice cream at home or opening their own ice cream shops. The book includes over 100 recipes, including Jeni’s popular salty caramel flavor.
Jeni released another book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts, in 2014. A third book was released in 2019 and includes a wide assortment of recipes for ice creams, sorbets, sundaes, and other desserts.
The Presence of Listeria Leads to a Product Recall
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams opened nearly 20 years ago but has only suffered one major publicity issue. In 2015, a single pint of Jeni’s ice cream tested positive for listeria. Britton Bauer and her team acted immediately. They issued a complete product recall, which was costly for the company.
They also shut down their kitchens and temporarily closed their shops. The company came to a standstill while they tried to determine the cause of the tainted pint of ice cream. It’s important to point out that no listeria outbreaks were connected to the company. Britton Bauer issued the product recall after listeria was found in a single pint. A second recall was never issued, despite the information that appears in some of the news reports.
After dozens of tests, listeria was eventually found in a second pint. The company immediately shut down their kitchen a second time. However, the listeria issue didn’t lead to the end of the company. Jeni Britton Bauer used it as an opportunity to improve operations.
The company implemented an aggressive listeria control program. Industry standards require swabbing for listeria once per 1000 square feet each week or month. Jeni’s started using 200 swabs in a 2000 square foot facility each day for two months. The company exceeded industry standards by 1000 times.
Jeni’s Receives a Strong Endorsement
In the years since the listeria outbreak, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams hasn’t attracted any other controversies. However, the company has attracted the attention of several famous people, including President Joe Biden.
After throwing a fundraiser for Biden in October 2019, the presidential candidate thanked the organizers by sending them six pints of Jeni’s Ice Cream. News outlets eventually discovered that the Biden campaign had spent $12,546.11 on Jeni’s Ice Cream between August 2019 and September 2020, mostly in $70 to $80 increments. They gained more publicity and an endorsement from the future president.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams Gives Back to the Community
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream is a certified B corporation, which means that the company balances profit and purpose. B corporations need to demonstrate a positive impact on the community, employees, customers, and the environment.
In 2020, Jeni’s spearheaded the launch of Food Industry Action. The initiative allows restaurants across the US to donate 5% of sales from a single day. Jeni’s donated $10,000 while the initiative raised a total of $85,000. The funds went to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Jeni’s also helped raise another $155,000 to provide 25,000 free meals to people during the COVID pandemic. These are just a few examples of how Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams continues to do good in this world, along with producing some of the most original ice cream flavors.
Future Ice Cream Expansion Plans
Jeni Britton Bauer dropped out of college to pursue her passion for combining scents and ice cream. She built her business from the ground up through perseverance and self-awareness. She stuck with her business idea through hardships and learned from her mistakes.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams continues to grow and expand into new markets. The company now has 47 physical storefronts in 12 states. Along with the ice cream scoop shops, Jeni’s is available at many retailers near you. The ice cream is distributed at over 3000 retailers around the country, and growing. Despite a minor setback during a listeria outbreak, the company is going strong and continues to open new shops.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.