Iowa ice cream maker of Blue Bunny, Halo Top brands plans $70 million expansion




  • In Business
  • 2022-05-20 17:16:39Z
  • By The Des Moines Register

Planning to roll out new products, ice cream giant Wells Enterprises will add production lines at its northwest Iowa factories.

The maker of the Blue Bunny, Bomb Pop and Halo Top brands wants to increase the amount of frozen treats it churns out at its Le Mars headquarters, according to the Iowa Economic Development Authority. In addition to building new lines, Wells plans to add or upgrade freezers, refrigerators and hardening equipment.

The IEDA board approved $6.3 million in investment tax credits for the company Friday. Under a contract with the state, Wells will create 135 jobs - 82 of which must pay at least $23.94 an hour.

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The company plans to spend $70 million on the upgrades without borrowing any money, according to the IEDA. Company spokesperson Lesley Bartholomew said in an email that the investments will "optimize our manufacturing footprint and help set us up for future growth."

Beginning as a small milk distribution company in 1913, Wells has grown into one of the country's biggest ice cream makers and one of Iowa's largest employers. As of April, according to the IEDA, it employed about 2,500 workers in Le Mars.

The privately held company is three years removed from a couple other large expansions. In April 2019, Wells purchased contract manufacturer Fieldbrook Foods, giving it factories in New Jersey and New York. Wells later announced it would invest $87 million to add production lines at the New York site.

The company added a West coast presence five months later, buying a Nevada ice cream factory from multinational conglomerate Unilever, the maker of brands like Breyers and Ben & Jerry's.

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The moves increased the number of Wells factories from two - both in Le Mars - to five. A couple of days after buying the Nevada plant, Wells announced the acquisition of California-based low-calorie ice cream brand Halo Top.

CEO Mike Wells told the Sioux City Journal in 2019 that the company's Le Mars factories had no room to grow. He said the purchases that year increased the company's headcount to 4,000 employees from 3,000 and help Wells become the second-largest ice cream maker in the country, passing Nestlé.

Michael Wells, CEO of Le Mars-based Wells Enterprises.
Michael Wells, CEO of Le Mars-based Wells Enterprises.  

He said the company would need to grow by another 20% to pass Unilever as the top U.S. ice cream maker.

"They're not out of our grasp," he said.

The IEDA previously gave Wells a $3 million tax credit in 2016, when the company spent $44 million to add two production lines at one of its Le Mars factory and expand the other one. The company promised at the time to add 81 jobs that paid at least $19.31 an hour.

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: Iowa ice cream company Wells, maker of Blue Bunny, Halo Top, expanding

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