Iowa's Wells Enterprises, maker of Blue Bunny ice cream, sold to Italian company




  • In Business
  • 2022-12-07 18:20:09Z
  • By The Des Moines Register

The family behind beloved northwest Iowa ice cream maker Wells Enterprises, maker of the Blue Bunny brand, has sold the business to a multinational food giant.

Wells Enterprises of Le Mars and Italy-based Ferrero Group announced the deal Wednesday morning, ending the ice cream manufacturer's 109-year run as an independent business. In addition to Blue Bunny, Wells owns the Bomb Pop, Blue Ribbon Classics and Halo Top frozen confection brands.

The companies did not disclose a purchase price in their announcement but said the deal would close in 2023. According to the news release, Wells will remain a stand-alone business with an office and factories in Le Mars in addition to its factories in Henderson, Nevada, and Dunkirk, New York.

Wells Enterprises in LeMars, maker of Blue Bunny ice cream, has been producing frozen confections since the 1920s.
Wells Enterprises in LeMars, maker of Blue Bunny ice cream, has been producing frozen confections since the 1920s.  

Wells CEO Michael Wells, a member of the founding family who has worked for the company since 1977, will continue to serve in an advisory role, the companies announced.

"This acquisition puts the business in the best possible hands, and I look forward to supporting the entire Wells team and Ferrero with the transition," Wells said in a statement.

More:Iowa pride: From Blue Bunny to Jolly Time, these 7 food companies call Iowa home

Wells President Liam Killeen, who joined the company in 2014, will become the ice cream maker's new CEO. Killeen came to Wells after running Ferrara Candy Co. of Minnesota, a business that Ferrero bought in 2017.

"Ferrero's brands and reputation for world-class quality are a perfect match with what has made Wells so successful - and we will be even better together going forward," Killeen said.

Ferrero owns 35 brands, most notably Nutella, Kinder and Tic Tac. The company employs 38,000 workers in 170 countries, according to the news release.

Wells, meanwhile, has expanded in recent years. The company bought its New York factory in April 2019, followed by the Nevada, plant five months later. Wells also acquired the low-calorie ice cream brand Halo Top in 2019.

More:Can an Iowa company make low-calorie Halo Top 'ice cream' a tastier dessert?

In May, the Iowa Economic Development Authority gave Wells a $6.3 million tax credit to expand its Le Mars factory. Company executives pledged to add 135 workers to the 2,500 it already employs in the area.

Though IEDA rules required that Wells sign a contract for the incentive within three months, the IEDA board has granted the company several extensions to the deadline this fall. Most recently, the board granted a 30-day extension at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Elizabeth Brennan, right, senior product development technologist, and Jon Oldroyd, senior director of research and development at Wells Enterprises in Le Mars, sample different flavors of Halo Top ice cream in the company
Elizabeth Brennan, right, senior product development technologist, and Jon Oldroyd, senior director of research and development at Wells Enterprises in Le Mars, sample different flavors of Halo Top ice cream in the company's tasting lab.  

"Wells Enterprises has been finalizing all details with IEDA and will sign our contract shortly," Wells Enterprises spokesperson Lesley Bartholomew told the Register in a Nov. 1 email. "We're extremely appreciative of the state awarding our project and are excited to add lines and high-quality jobs to make even more ice cream in our Le Mars facilities."

Ferrero has been expanding in the United States for several years. In addition to the acquisition of Wells and Ferrara, the Italian company bought chocolate maker Fannie May in 2017 and the Kellogg Company's cookies and fruit snacks businesses in 2019.

According to its news release, Ferrero employs 8,000 workers in nine offices and 18 factories across North America.

"I am delighted that Wells has agreed to join the Ferrero Group," Giovanni Ferrero, the company's executive chairman, said in a statement. "This represents a win-win partnership, bringing together ice cream experts and confectionery champions."

Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at tjett@registermedia.com, 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Italian company now owns Blue Bunny ice cream maker Wells Enterprises

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