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How the IoT keeps Ben & Jerry’s ice cream safe

Michelle Davidson | May 18, 2016
Smart technology such as temperature sensors help Udder Ventures keep freezers at its Ben & Jerry's franchises running and prevent ice cream meltdowns.

If a dropped ice cream cone is one of the saddest images in the world, then the loss of tens of thousands of dollars of ice cream—especially Ben & Jerry’s ice cream—is a tragedy.

It’s also a huge financial hit, and one that Udder Ventures experienced when a new walk-in freezer malfunctioned at its Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop in the Haight-Asbury section of San Francisco.

The equipment wasn’t installed perfectly—it wasn’t localized for temperature variances in San Francisco properly, said John Slater, Udder Ventures’ chief euphoria officer (the managing member of the company). So, it kept tripping the system, and when the system tripped, the freezer shut off—and the ice cream melted.

“It turned off 230 times in nine months. That loss of product is substantial—tens of thousands of dollars of lost product,” Slater said. “I had many sleepless nights. And I’d come in every morning and have this anxiety: ‘Is all my ice cream melted again or did it stay on last night?’”

The scoop shop had a security system that included a trip alarm connected to the freezer. It would send an email notification if it sensed a problem, but no specific information about the problem, so Slater didn’t know, for example, if the freezer was shutting down again or if it was simply the defrost cycle, which occurs four times a day.

And if he received an alert in the middle of the night, he would have to go to the shop to make sure the freezer was still running.

“I had a lot of sleepless nights. I lost a lot of money. I finally decided this was giving me an ulcer and I needed a solution,” Slater said. 

Temperature sensor to the rescue

After nine months, the scoop shop’s freezer was recalibrated and stopped tripping the system and shutting down. After what Slater went through, though, he was on edge wondering if the freezer was going to fail again. The email alerts were still unhelpful and were often false positives. Slater needed a better sensor system.

He decided to use a temperature sensor system from Monnit Corp. in Kayesville, Utah. The system takes what’s essentially a dumb piece of equipment and makes it smart, said Brad Walters, CEO of Monnit.

ben jerrys haight asbury 
Serving up ice cream at the perfect temperature at the Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop in the Haight-Asbury section of San Francisco. Credit: Udder Ventures

It includes a probe that goes into the freezer; a wireless, battery-operated sensor; a gateway to receive the data and then send it to a cloud-based portal. Finally, software analyzes the data and alerts users when sensors detect a problem.


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