2023 Newsfeed

Why Ben & Jerry’s use cows to give away ice cream

Would you trust a stranger dressed in a cow suit promising free ice cream?

It sounds like it could be the start of a joke, or a ploy to kidnap children, but it actually happened and was part of the marketing for Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day.

An ice cream store with a range of different flavours in the display freezer. Three workers dressed in black stand behind it smiling. There are colourful posters in the background.
The Event

On April 3rd 2023, Ben & Jerry’s stores across Australia and around the world took a break from normal trade to give away free scoops of ice cream.

Each store ran the event over eight hours and gave people the chance to taste each of their whacky flavours.

My first glimpse of the event was of two teenage workers dressed up as cows roaming down the side of the Westfield Woden shopping centre. Unfortunately for them, most people didn’t look that interested at 1pm on a Monday.

Despite the sweet deal of free ice cream, the inside of the store was equally quiet with an empty line and only the workers around. This Ben & Jerry’s location is run alongside a HOYTS cinema but even that wasn’t bringing many people in.

They did have some energetic pop music playing to try and create some atmosphere, but it just fell flat without many people around.

A freezer full of different ice cream flavours at a Ben and Jerry's store. A worker is making a scoop while a customer eaits.

While this didn’t seem like great news for their event, it did mean that I got a fast pass in to score a cone of my own.

This ended up being the perfect time to visit as you could go round and around the line to keep trying different flavours.

The ice cream certainly makes it worth attending the event, it is not just your typical chocolate and vanilla flavours. Instead, they are full of swirls of syrups and chocolate chunks that you don’t normally find in other brands. My personal recommendation would be Phish Food which was a chocolate ice cream with marshmallows and fish shaped chocolate pieces.

With little other entertainment it was not the type of event you need to hang around for very long, just get your ice cream and go. However, I walked back past the event a few hours later, after school had finished, and it was an entirely different scene.

The line was now headed out the door with people queueing up along the side of the building and a face painter was set up inside to keep kids happy as they waited.

A few of the staff had their turn and had their faces covered in cow print to match their black and white costumes.

The atmosphere had picked up significantly with the increasing crowd as they all excitedly picked a flavour.

The front of a blue Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop has an empty barricaded line out the front. The front of a blue Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop has a full line of people waiting for ice cream.
2 P.M. v 3:30 P.M. at Ben & Jerry’s Woden
The Stats

How much ice cream are they really giving away?

At the Woden store they went through:

  • 154kg of ice cream which equalled out to about 1,931 scoops.

Nationally, across the 18 Ben & Jerry’s stores attached to HOYTS locations they used:

  • 3,993.4kg of ice cream equalling 39,934 scoops

That amount of ice cream is roughly the equivalent of 22 bath tubs full of ice cream. Which if you break that down across the whole day is:

  • 4,992 scoops an hour,
  • 83 scoops a minute, or
  • 1.4 scoops a second!
The History

So, why were they giving out free ice cream?

Ben and Jerry founded their company in 1979 in a renovated petrol station in Vermont, USA.

To celebrate their successful first year, they thanked their customers with a day of free ice cream.

This day turned into a tradition, and they ran one every year for 40 years as they expanded into other counties until 2019 when the COVID pandemic caused the event to stop.

This 2023 event was the first year the day had gone ahead in four years, which may explain why there weren’t any huge crowds.

The Verdict

The event was a great opportunity to score some free ice cream.

Many of the flavours on offer aren’t available at supermarkets so it was a chance to taste test something new. These flavours also went beyond the traditional chocolate and vanilla which meant there was something for everyone.

The quickest time to get in and out with your ice cream was around 1-3pm when the lines were shortest and most people were at work. The empty lines caused a slump in the event’s atmosphere but meant you didn’t have to wait as long.

Two Ben and Jerry's workers standing outside on some grey cement. They are dressed in black and white cow costumes and are each holding a Free Cone Day sign.

Once the afternoon rolled around, people left school and work to join in on the fun.

The additional people gave the event a sense of legitimacy and more of a community feel. Time spent waiting in the queue did increase but watching the enthusiastic staff walking around in the cow suits helped pass the time.

Overall, the oddity of the event was enough to draw you in and the sweet deal of free ice cream made it all worthwhile.

Photos by Grace Buckmaster