April 17, 2024

Employees’ shared values are the secret to Jeni’s Ice Cream success

When it came to growth, developing a strong company culture was as important as developing gourmet ice cream flavors.

Hiring the right people is only the first step; Britton says. After that, it’s essential to build a cohesive company culture, or “Fellowship of the Ring”.

There were two moments in Jeni Britton’s life that she remembers as transformational. The founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams detailed both of those epiphanies in a recent conversation with interviewer Chris Allen for the Heartland-sponsored vlog “The Entrepreneur’s Studio.” 

The first was the instant when, as a student at The Ohio State University, she sampled the results of an experiment, ice cream flavors she had created by mixing exotic ingredients into standard store-bought ice creams. She infused vanilla with the precious Bulgarian rose oil typically used in high-end perfumery, and chocolate ice cream with the heat of cayenne. 

“When I took a bite of those ice creams, I knew my whole life would be ice cream. I knew who I would become,” Britton told Allen. “What I didn’t know was how long it would take, the effort; I didn’t know anything about having a business.”

It took decades, a lot of experimentation and many collaborators, but Britton slowly built a paradigm-changing premium frozen dessert company. The brand has Scoop Shops in metro markets around the country, an online distribution channel, a presence in leading supermarkets and restaurants nationwide, and a cumulative total of almost 90 million pints of ice cream sold since the company’s founding in 1996.

That brings us to the second epiphany, when Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” hit theaters in 2001. 
“I’ve always been a huge Tolkien fan,” Britton explained to Allen. “So it was like, this is exactly what we’re doing. We’re building a fellowship. Each of us has a different talent. Together, we’re going to create something greater than the sum of our parts. We’re going to be united by our values. We’re going to get the ring to Mordor. Entrepreneurship is really not complicated when you think about it that way.”

Thanks in part to grandparents who operated their own small business, Britton intuited from a young age that entrepreneurship would be her career path.

“I started Jeni’s because I thought, if I can make this ice cream and if I love it so much, maybe others will love it. If it can make a few hundred people happy, I can make a living. If they want to pay me for this, I can live off that.”

Britton began her entrepreneurial journey as a sole proprietor, sourcing top-quality ingredients, creating her own ice creams and selling them at farmers’ markets in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio. But it took just a few years before her long hours took their toll. 

“I had to think differently, think more precisely about what I like to do and what I’m good at,” she says. “For everything else, I had to hire somebody. The first step was making sure our finances are protected, so that we would be doing the best and most with our income that we possibly could.”

In hiring staff, she says to seek people who share the company’s values. In fact, “people will find you because they know your values,” she says. “At Jeni’s, we’re very clear about them. We work directly with growers, and they get paid fairly. We pay people a living wage. We challenge ourselves to be zero waste. We care about quality; we care about safety. That’s where I want to work, and that’s what everybody else feels at Jeni’s. That’s our superhero skill—we get the best talent because people want to work in a place where their values are aligned, and that makes them passionate.”

Hiring the right people is, of course, only the first step; after that, it’s essential to build a cohesive company culture, or what Britton would call a Fellowship of the Ring.

“The hardest thing about building a company is staying true to your vision and keeping everybody going in the same direction and united by the same values,” she says. “When you build a fellowship, being a leader means keeping everybody going in the same direction, and saying ‘no’ to ideas when you have to. Maybe they’re great ideas, but right now, they aren’t really helping to move this fellowship forward.”
Sponsored by
  • Heartland is the point of sale, payments and payroll solution of choice for entrepreneurs that need human-centered technology to sell more, keep customers coming back and spend less time in the back office. Nearly 1,000,000 businesses trust us to guide them through market changes and technology challenges, so they can stay competitive and focus on building remarkable businesses instead of managing the daily grind. Learn more at or come visit us during the show at Booth# 3612 in the South building.