This Woman’s Entire Job Is to Create New Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Flavors
Women in the food industry are making the world way more delish. From launching a nationwide popcorn snack from her family garage with her kids to opening a successful pie shop, women leaders are paving the way for foodies to take their culinary desires to the next level. In this week’s entry in our How to Quit Your Day Job series, Natalia Butler, a Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Guru, gives us a peek inside the Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Lab and details how she takes her sweet ideas from start to finish.
Meet the Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Guru: Natalia Butler
Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Guru Natalia Butler is the mastermind behind some iconic tastes, including the Ben & Jerry’s Tonight Dough pint slice. The new mom almost didn’t apply for her dream job when she saw a Ben & Jerry’s job listing pop up, but now Butler’s passion for ice cream is her daily routine. Here, she shares how she turned her master’s degree in food science into a fantastic career.
Brit + Co: What’s your morning routine?
Natalia Butler: I wake up, drive 40 minutes to work, make myself a nice breakfast (I love mini egg/sausage quesadillas with hot sauce or sriracha), make myself a cold mason jar of hibiscus tea, and then get to my computer and start producing.
B+C: How did you land your job as a Flavor Guru at Ben & Jerry’s?
NB: I went to school for chemistry back in Puerto Rico, where I am originally from. I pursued my master’s in food science, technology, and nutrition from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, then worked as a cider maker for a cider company here in Vermont. Then for 22 months, I was an animal nutraceuticals product developer, since my master’s is part food biocomponents (which means how food can be useful as medicine). One day, I saw the job posting for Ben & Jerry’s. I originally had no intentions to move, as my career was growing, but I applied and said, “Hey, this is my dream job.” I said to myself, “I might not get it, but if I don’t play, I won’t win.” After a set of interviews, I got a call from the recruiter that, out of hundreds of applicants, I got it. I cried in the parking lot for about 30 minutes out of happiness. Taking the job at Ben & Jerry’s was the best decision I have ever made.
B+C: What is something that people don’t know about your work that you wish that they did?
NB: It is all fun and games until you realize how much work there is behind bringing an ice cream pint, mini cup, bulk, or pint slice to life. It takes so much effort! For starters, you are thinking into the future; then you have to think this is done by hand — how would this work on a big scale? Then you think, “Are these chunks and swirls going to cooperate?” Once you get over that part, then lots of paperwork comes next. There are systems in place where we have to track and input lots of data. If you make a mistake, it’s time to start from scratch.
B+C: What does your typical workday look like?
NB: It involves a little bit of everything, like playing with food (we are all foodies, so we are constantly cooking or making something in the kitchen), being in meetings, doing specification work and paperwork, proofing labels, and speaking to visitors. It all depends. We are always busy. [There’s] never a dull moment in my day-to-day.
B+C: Can you walk us through the process from flavor idea to final product?
NB: It starts by looking at a little bit of research and see what is trending or what would be trending. We get together with marketing and consumer insights, brainstorm, and then go to the kitchen — or start sourcing new ingredients if it involves that. Sometimes, we just go in the kitchen and play with what we have. The ice cream goes through a tasting with another Flavor Guru. If it passes, we present to marketing. If it passes marketing, then the next step is thinking how are we going to make it happen at a bigger factory scale, as the only thing that has happened so far is making small six-pint batches in the kitchen. After that, it goes into specifications and [through] a lot of paperwork, and then it makes it to the factory line and a shelf near you. It takes about 18 to 24 months to come up with a flavor from concept to final product.
B+C: What do you love about your job?
NB: The one thing I really love about my job is I get to show up as my very true self. I love that I have a very supportive and energetic team with lots of knowledge and that we get to exchange what we know. We all have our strengths, and we are all very happy to share them with each other. I love that I go to work to make ice cream. I love that I work with amazing people who are passionate about Ben & Jerry’s and what it represents. Ben & Jerry’s has a three-part mission that stands for social, economic, and product focus. It includes equity, linked prosperity, and that the product is made in the best way possible by helping farmers and sustainability. This on its own is very important — knowing you are doing good one pint and one cone at a time.
B+C: What’s been your favorite flavor to develop, and why?
NB: I work mostly with novelties, like our pint slices and mini cups, which are one serving. Now, how do you get to show Ben & Jerry’s in such a small amount of ice cream? Every flavor is always very challenging and exciting. I create mini cups for Japan, which are always fun. They are adventurous, but we also want them to have the Ben & Jerry’s experience that you get here in the US. One great product to develop for Japan has been Ginger Rum, which is a ginger rum base with lime candies. It’s very different from our caramels and chocolate found in the US. For pint slices, Tonight Dough was by far the hardest slice to be developed and to deliver the pint experience in a handheld form.
B+C: What advice would you share with women who are interested in pursuing a career like yours?
NB: I am all about empowering women to pursue a career in science — even more so in food manufacturing. This is a very male-oriented industry. We need more of us women here. It hasn’t been easy for me. I was in the beverage industry before, which is very male-oriented. I realized that after doing my masters I had nothing to prove to anyone. I understood my worth and trusted that my knowledge would take me where I am needed. Don’t get discouraged. Keep fighting for what you believe in. Once you understand how important what you bring to the table is, people will start to listen to you. Don’t lose your voice. Stand for what you believe is right.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!
(Natalia Butler photo via Ben & Jerry’s; Flavor Lab photos via Lindsay Bumps/Ben & Jerry’s)