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Sunflower Butter in Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream

Wednesday, March 25, 2020
filed under: Utilization/Trade: Confection-Non-oil

There are three new flavors of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream available in the freezer section of your favorite grocery store.  The new flavors — “milk” and cookies, mint chocolate cookies and crème Brulee cookie — are made without nuts, non-dairy and vegan, so even more ice cream fans can indulge.  But it’s the ingredient they’ve added that really sets these new flavors apart.

Ben & Jerry’s is using sunflower butter in these new ice cream flavors, making them the first national brand to do so.  Jody Kerzman talked with Sarah Fidler, product developer for the company, about the new sunflower butter-based flavors.
Explain the idea behind your product?
We launched our non-dairy ice cream in 2016.  It got a great response from our fans, and we immediately started thinking of what else we could develop.  We knew there were some fans who couldn’t have the almond-based products because of nut allergies.  We really wanted to provide something they could eat.  We don’t call our products “nut-free,” because we do use nuts in our facility.  But we wanted to produce something that didn’t use nuts in the formula.  As we looked at different options, we came across sunflower.  It provided a good base to make our exciting flavors.  Plus, it is non-dairy and doesn’t use any nuts.

So, in January of this year, we launched three new flavors: “milk” and cookies is a non-dairy version of our classic dairy flavor vanilla ice cream with chocolate chip cookies, chocolate sandwich cookies and chocolate cookie swirls; mint chocolate cookie, a spin-off of our mint ice cream with chocolate sandwich cookies; and Crème Brule cookie, which is a burnt caramel non-dairy frozen dessert with brown sugar cookies and salted caramel swirls.
How do you use sunflower in your product?
We are using sunflower paste as a base to the ice cream mix.  It’s providing the fat and the basic building blocks to make the base of the ice cream mix.  It took a lot of development work to get here.  

The work developing the mix was done at our facility in the UK.  Our researchers there spent two and a half years really fine tuning the mix and making sure that it worked well.                              

There were some differences between the almond base and the sunflower butter base, but the process was relatively simple. It took time to fine-tune some aspects, though.  

We have wonderful things to say about the sunflower butter.  It has a neutral flavor — and we were really pleased at how easy it was to take a sunflower base and turn into almost any flavor.  And after that two and a half years spent developing the mix, it took another nine months to a year to get the product onto the shelves. 
Why do you use sunflower?
We are using sunflower for a few reasons.  The big reason is that a lot of our fans who can’t have dairy also can’t have nuts.  We wanted to provide something for those people.  The other big reason was the ability sunflower butter gives us to make certain flavors . For example, mint chocolate cookie is a very popular flavor for us, but mint as a flavor does not work well with our almond base.  It works well with sunflower butter and delivers in a way we were really happy with.

We looked at a few other options before we chose sunflower.  Ultimately, sunflower gave us a really good color; it is a basic color we could take in any direction and a flavor that could also go in any direction.  And, it is relatively easy to use.  It has a clean ingredient deck — just one ingredient!  So that made sense to us.  
Where do you get the sunflower you use?
All of the sunflower we use is grown in the United States. 
What makes your products stand out?
The flavors are made without nuts and are also non-dairy and vegan, but they’re still indulgent.  They’re still Ben & Jerry’s. As a brand, we strive to find that balance between being innovative and using a new ingredient such as sunflower seeds and providing something for fans who can’t have dairy and nuts, while also staying true to who we really are.
What kinds of challenges have you faced along the way?
As I mentioned, it took about two and a half years just to develop the mix.  There was definitely a lot of learning to be had, and luckily we have a really strong team in the UK that gets down to the molecular fat droplet size in the mix.  They did a lot of studying and research. 

It took a long time, but there were never any moments where we didn’t think we would do this.  The learning process was really helpful; it helped open our minds to continue asking questions and wondering how else we could use this ingredient.  Sunflower paste is a relatively new ingredient on the market; many of us didn’t grow up with sunflower seed paste, so there’s much to learn about how it works
Approximately how much sunflower do you use each year?
We will use about 30 tons of sunflower seeds this year, or 60,000 lbs.
Where can your products be purchased?
These new flavors are pretty widely available, but the best way to find them is to go to where you can use our flavor locater to show the store closest to you that is carrying these new flavors.
Any new offerings, new products coming up?
We believe that the interest and excitement over plant-based foods is here to stay.  We are continuing to develop more non-dairy desserts and hope to be one of the biggest players in the world someday. 

The innovation cycle takes a very long time, even if you’re not developing a brand-new mix; but we are working on new things for next year and the year after. Ben & Jerry’s is definitely in this plant-based area to stay, and we have a lot more to come. The non-dairy part of our business is growing quickly,
Where can people learn more about these sunflower butter-based flavors?
Our website,,  is a great place to learn more about our sunflower butter-based flavors as well as the rest of our products.  We’re also on Facebook — just search Ben & Jerry’s.                        
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