Off of a seemingly deserted industrial road in the southern moshav of Be’er Tuviya lies a sweet and creamy oasis – Israel’s very own Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory.
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, founded in Vermont in 1978, came to Israel 30 years ago.
The man responsible for the move is Avi Zinger, an ice cream aficionado who first had the idea to bring Ben & Jerry’s to the Holy Land. Zinger has been the CEO here since the beginning.
His company, a licensee of Ben & Jerry’s, is one of only two factories outside the United States, exporting to countries all across Europe.
Zinger said the Israeli factory tries to keep the process the same as the Vermont factory to keep the ice cream consistent, only making changes as necessary for the kosher certification. Some flavors produced in Israel have a higher kosher certification than in the US, he said.
“Ben & Jerry’s is coming out with new flavors – maybe five, six, seven flavors a year… We try to figure out which one will be accepted here in the market... then we go over the supplies and ingredients and... go to the kosher organization to see if it’s doable.”
Some flavors are special only to Israel, like Dulce de Leche (caramel flavor), while others don’t do as well as popular flavors in the States, like the infamous classic, Cherry Garcia.
In order to ensure product continuity, some key ingredients are imported. The milk and eggs are sourced locally from farms all around the south of Israel.
He said the factory uses egg yolk instead of emulsifiers to stay consistent with Ben & Jerry’s values of keeping the product GMO-free, fair trade and all-natural.
For the most part, Zinger said the operating costs in Israel are similar to those in the US, although some ingredients have to be shipped to Israel. That, plus the cost of the kosher certification and the fact that milk is more expensive in Israel, can increase the cost of production.
Ben & Jerry’s stores, like the one outside the factory where Yotam Cohen works, are not only a place for sweets but a fun place where kids love to come and play.
“On Fridays when the parents aren’t working, it can get up to 100 people (visiting the store),” Cohen said.
This high demand for ice cream also reflects the interest in the factory itself. Factory tours for the public are not currently available, although Zinger hopes to bring them back sometime down the line.
In the meantime, the Israeli factory has its sights set on bringing one of Ben & Jerry’s most beloved flavors, Phish Food, to the country, due to popular demand. The flavor contains marshmallow fluff, which Israel is in the process of replicating from the original Vermont factory.
“We’re working on it,” Zinger said, adding that Israel should expect this fan favorite in the near future.
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