Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream Company History

909 Packerland Drive
P.O. Box 19007
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54307

Telephone: (414) 499-5151
Fax: (314) 727-2021

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Unilever, Inc.
Incorporated: 1993
Employees: 2,300
Sales: $500 million
SICs: 2024 Ice Cream & Frozen Desserts

Company History:

In 1993 Good Humor and Breyers Ice Cream, two companies famous for their ice cream and frozen novelty dessert products, joined to form Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream Company. As the largest American producer of these consumables, the company offers several popular product lines under such favorite brand names as Breyers, Good Humor, Klondike, Popsicle, and Sealtest. With an increasingly health conscious consumer base, Good Humor-Breyers has also developed new lines of fat free and sugar free ice cream. Moreover, the company remains committed to its role as an industry innovator, developing patented processes used to produce such products as Viennetta, a ready-to-serve dessert of layered ice cream and chocolate.

Breyers Ice Cream Company is the oldest ice cream producer in the United States. In 1866, before the invention of the telephone, the start of the modern Olympics, and the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, William A. Breyer decided to produce a relatively new concoction called ice cream. With the American economy recovering from the recent Civil War, Breyer was out of a job and, worried about how to support his family, hit upon the idea of selling a dairy product made out of cream, pure cane sugar, nuts, fresh fruits, and other natural flavorings.

Unable to rent a store to sell his ice cream, Breyer began to make and sell his product from his kitchen in Philadelphia. At first he sold ice cream to his neighbors and people living in the nearby community. As the reputation of his ice cream grew, he added different flavors and ingredients to expand his product line. With demand for Breyer's ice cream growing by the month, the entrepreneur purchased a horse and wagon to sell his products on the streets of Philadelphia. Breyer also purchased a large dinner bell, which he fitted on the wagon and sounded along his route to announce the arrival of his ice cream.

By 1882 Breyer had saved enough money to open a retail ice cream store. Not surprisingly, demand for his ice cream grew even more rapidly. People from every neighborhood in the city were soon traveling to Breyer's store on Frankford Avenue. Breyer made all the ice cream in the back of his store and sold it across the counter and by means of horse drawn wagons. The more the public tasted Breyer's ice cream, the more they wanted, and in quick succession Breyer opened up five more retail ice cream stores in different areas of the City of Brotherly Love.

Philadelphia mourned the loss of William A. Breyer when he died late in 1882. Luckily for all the new ice cream lovers, his wife Louisa assumed control of the business with the help of her sons Frederick and Henry. For the next 14 years, Louisa Breyer devoted herself to the success of her husband's business. The retail stores flourished with sons Frederick and Henry as owners and supervising managers. Eventually, the family was overwhelmed by the increasing demand for Breyer's ice cream. No longer able to supply their customers by making ice cream in the small back room of their original store on Frankford, Louisa, Frederick, and Henry opened the family's first wholesale manufacturing plant, in Philadelphia.

As the old century gave way to the new one, Breyer's ice cream was in demand more than ever. By 1904 the family's wholesale manufacturing plant was inundated with orders for ice cream, and the family opened a second manufacturing plant on Cumberland Avenue. In an important innovation in the history of the product, the company began to freeze ice cream by using brine rather than salt and ice. This allowed manufacturers to lower the cost of producing the dessert.

With Louisa Breyer having already passed away, and Frederick dying in 1907, Henry became the sole owner of the firm. In 1908 he incorporated the business as Breyer Ice Cream Company. Soon afterward, he introduced the Breyer Pledge of Purity. Under the name of Henry Breyer, this pledge personally guaranteed that each container of Breyers product included all natural ingredients and the best ice cream available.

Breyer's ice cream grew more popular with each passing year. In 1914 the company announced that it was producing one million gallons annually, an accomplishment that was considered almost impossible at the time. Henry Breyer was a master organizer, and he arranged for the company's products to be delivered throughout Philadelphia and nearby communities by whatever means of transportation were available, including trolley freight, auto express, boat, railway express, and a vast collection of horse-drawn delivery wagons. With sales always increasing, the Breyer's Ice Cream Company factory on Cumberland Street needed more space. Rather than building a new plant, Henry Breyer continued to expand the firm's existing facilities. By 1918 the plant on Cumberland Street occupied an entire city block.

Even with the expansion of its space, the plant was operating both day and evening shifts. Henry Breyer brought together architects and designers to construct the largest ice cream manufacturing factory in the world. Opened in 1924, the plant operated at full capacity from its very first day. Confident that sales of Breyer's ice cream would continue to increase, Henry built new manufacturing plants in New York in 1925 and New Jersey in 1927. The Breyer's name was put up on the lights over Broadway Avenue in New York City to celebrate the opening of the manufacturing plant.

During the late 1920s, the company was incorporated into the National Dairy Products Corporation (NDPC), a holding company for famous brand-name products. Operating as a new division within NDPC, Breyers Ice Cream was able to take advantage of the marketing tools at National Dairy's disposal. As the 1920s came to a close, Breyers was still selling more ice cream than any other firm in the United States; however, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the death of Henry Breyer in 1936, took a toll on the company, and sales decreased substantially.

With the onset of World War II, interest in Breyers ice cream products seemed to revive, and there was a resurgence in production. Working at Breyers during this time was also a distinct pleasure. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Breyers held a daily ice cream break for its employees, with a different flavor each day. On Mondays the employees received novelty treats, such as hot buttered pecans or buttered almonds.

During the 1960s, Breyers ice cream was sold only in ice cream parlors, soda fountains, delis, and other service establishments. Operators at Breyers took orders over the phone, picked up the orders at the warehouse, placed them on a dolly, and had the ice cream delivered to the customers. Increased sales of ice cream led the NDPC to purchase Sealtest Ice Cream Company and merge it with Breyers; Sealtest had long been another favorite with American consumers.

By the early 1970s, the National Dairy Products Corporation had renamed itself Kraftco Corporation and begun to distribute Breyers in Florida and Georgia. By 1976 Kraftco Corporation had shortened its name to Kraft, Inc., and by the mid-1980s the company began to distribute Breyers ice cream to states throughout the midwestern and western United States. Even with increased distribution, Breyers remained committed to its Pledge of Purity. On one occasion, in order to make its mint chocolate chip ice cream all natural, the firm removed the green coloring that most people associated with the flavor of mint. Although customers were shocked when they opened containers labeled Breyers Mint Chocolate Chip and discovered what looked like vanilla ice cream, Breyers stuck by its pledge and refused to change the color.

Although Breyers' sales were good and the company introduced a new line of frozen desserts, including Light Ice Milk and frozen yogurt treats, Kraft management decided to sell Breyers Ice Cream Company to Unilever, Inc., an Anglo-Dutch multinational corporation that was operating such well-known consumer products companies as Lipton, Lever, and Cheeseborough. Unilever relocated Breyers headquarters to Green Bay, Wisconsin, and merged the firm with Gold Bond-Good Humor Ice Cream Company to create Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream Company in 1993.

The Good Humor Ice Cream Company was created in 1920 by Harry Burt, a candy maker working in Youngstown, Ohio. Burt had already created what he called the "Jolly Boy Sucker," however, he was unhappy with the name and changed it to the "Good Humor Sucker." Burt was an early advocate of health food and believed that his Good Humor Sucker not only tasted great, but was healthy food, too.

Burt soon added ice cream treats to his candy store. While working late in his store one summer evening, Burt created a chocolate coating for ice cream. The inventor gave a sample treat to his young daughter Ruth, who loved it; however, she told her father that the treat was too sloppy to eat.

Burt put wooden sticks in the ice cream to use as handles, at the suggestion of his son, Harry Jr. The wooden sticks became solidly frozen into the ice cream due to the ice crystals formed from the residue of water in the wood handles. Without delay, father and son went to sign an affidavit for his invention of the Good Humor Bar.

A natural genius in marketing, Burt hired 12 trucks to transport the Good Humor Bar to his customers' doorsteps, attaching bells on each of the trucks to draw attention to the product. Soon sales of Good Humor Bars were skyrocketing in Youngstown. As the reputation of the treat spread, Burt expanded his operation into Detroit and then Chicago. When Burt refused to be bullied by gangsters in Chicago who demanded protection money, they blew up some of his trucks with dynamite. The enormous publicity Burt garnered from the failed intimidation tactics helped make Good Humor ice cream Chicago's favorite dessert.

The coming of the Great Depression during the 1930s did not prevent Good Humor's distribution from expanding across the United States. Burt hired and intensively trained men who lived up to the image the Good Humor Ice Cream Company wanted to portray. Clean, white uniforms and a cheery manner became trademarks of the Good Humor Man. The qualifications for becoming a Good Humor Man included the ability to be friendly with children and look after their safety. Burt was so successful in molding the image of the Good Humor Man that by the 1950s such virtues as enthusiasm, dedication, friendliness, dependability, and honesty had come to be associated with his ice cream company. Newspaper reports of the local Good Humor Man rushing a baby to a hospital for treatment and breaking up a counterfeit money operation in Long Island, New York, only added to the image.

In 1961, Good Humor was purchased by Thomas J. Lipton, a subsidiary of Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate. With Burt gone and the company now managed by non-family members, Good Humor Ice Cream Company went through a period of significant change. While the Good Humor Bar remained the company's primary product, such items as the Chocolate Eclair Bar and Strawberry Shortcake Bar were added to a growing product line. With the changing demographics of urban America, the friendly Good Humor Man who drove slowly through neighborhoods ringing his bells also began to disappear. As a result, the company focused more on selling its ice cream in supermarkets and grocery stores, and by the 1980s, the company was experiencing increased competition.

Unilever decided that what was lacking was critical mass, so in 1989, it acquired Gold Bond Ice Cream based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and with it, the Popsicle family of frozen novelties, a major force in the market. The new company, Gold Bond-Good Humor, was poised to take a powerful leadership role in the category.

In 1993, Gold Bond-Good Humor capped off its aggressive acquisitions by adding Klondike to its impressive brand base. And, in that same year, the Gold Bond-Good Humor company took over Breyers Ice Cream Company to make Good Humor-Breyers the largest American producer of both ice cream and frozen novelties.

By combining Good Humor with Breyers Ice Cream Company, Unilever brought their most promising ice cream products under a single distribution and marketing strategy, a move that paid off in the early 1990s as the company became America's leading producer of ice cream and frozen novelties. By that time, the Good Humor-Breyers family also included the Klondike, Popsicle, and Sealtest brands, each of which had a long history of producing high quality, popular frozen dessert products. As the twentieth century drew to a close, Unilever management hoped that its Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream Company could capture an even larger share of the $10 billion ice cream and frozen dessert market in the United States. With its popular brands and the strong financial backing of Unilever, the likelihood of increased success for Good Humor-Breyers is very realistic.

Further Reading:

  • Bauer, Bob, "Good Humor-Breyers Adds 50 Items," Supermarket News, February 6, 1995, p. 32.
  • Benjamin, Ben, "In the Ice Cream R&D Trenches," Food Processing, September 1993, p. 95.
  • Elliot, Stuart, "Four Agencies Get Big Food Accounts," New York Times, February 13, 1995, pp. C7, D7.
  • ------, "Ogilvy & Mather Named to Breyers Account," New York Times, June 7, 1994, p. C4.
  • Martinez, Julia C., "Kraft Names Frozen Desserts Division after Long-Running Breyers Ice Cream," Philadelphia Inquirer, August 23, 1993, p. 8.
  • Ramirez, Anthony, "Good Humor-Breyers Accounts," New York Times, October 31, 1994, p. C7.
  • Rosenbaum, Gail, "Novel Ideas: Two Good-Humored Brits in Green Bay Keep the Novelty Market on Its Toes," Dairy Foods, June 1992, p. 39.
  • Spethmann, Betsy, "Brand Builders," Brandweek, February 20, 1995, p. 18.
  • Warner, Fars, "Good Humor Pulls into Supermarkets," Adweek's Marketing Week, March 9, 1992, p. 6.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 14. St. James Press, 1996.