Blue Bunny maker rules out sale

2012-11-14T13:00:00Z 2012-11-14T16:59:04Z Blue Bunny maker rules out saleDAVE DREESZEN Sioux City Journal

LE MARS, Iowa | The family business that makes Blue Bunny ice cream has ruled out seeking outside equity investors to achieve its ambitious goal of becoming America's No. 1 ice cream company.

"There will be no changes to the current ownership structure at this time," Wells Enterprises said in a statement Wednesday. "Wells will remain privately-held and a family-owned company, just as it has been for the last 100 years."

The decision followed completion of a months-long strategic review of how best to raise enough capital to support the Le Mars-based company's goal of doubling revenues by 2020. Wells retained JP Morgan to consider a range of options, from conventional loans to selling an interest in the company.

The Wells board of directors and shareholders "concluded the best course of action is refinancing in order to support our growth objectives," the company said in the statement.

"The strength of our business, coupled with unprecedented low interest rates, makes it that much more attractive to fund our own growth through conventional credit means," Wells spokesman Dave Smetter said Wednesday.

Smetter declined to say how much the company expects to raise. Wells expects to complete its financing plans by early 2013.

“We are excited for the future. We will celebrate our 100th birthday next year and we truly believe that our best years are ahead of us," Wells President and CEO Mike Wells, the third generation to run the family business, said in a statement Wednesday.

Wells sold its milk and yogurt holdings in 2006 to focus exclusively on its ice cream and frozen novelties business. Since then, the company has grown into a solid No. 3 in the $10 billion U.S. ice cream industry, behind international food and nutrition conglomerates Nestle SA and LondonUnilevar.

Switzerland-based Nestle's ice cream brands include Edy's, Haagen-Dazs and Nestle, and Unilever's brands include Good Humor, Breyers and Ben & Jerry's.

To challenge the Behemoths, who currently control about half of all ice cream sales, Wells would need to boost its annual revenues from the current $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion.

Mike Wells has said the company grow in a number of ways, from beefing up the Blue Bunny advertising budge and adding new products to expanding into new sales territories and acquiring smaller competitors.

Blue Bunny products, available in nearly 500 different flavors, are currently sold in all 50 states.

Members of the Wells family are the sole shareholders of the 99-year-old company, which was founded in 1913 in Le Mars when Fred H. Wells bought a horse, wagon and milk route for $250. The Blue Bunny brand was born in 1935 after Wells and his brother, Harry, sponsored an ice cream naming contest in the Sioux City Journal.

Le Mars Mayor Dick Kirchoff said he was excited to learn Wednesday that Wells would remain a family-owned business and the company is moving ahead with its growth plans.


"The city of Le Mars is very blessed to have a company such as Wells Enterprises as part of our community," Kirchoff said.


Le Mars, the self-proclaimed Ice Cream Capital of the World, remains the dominant place of employment for Wells, which employs more than 2,000 people, or the equivalent of one of every four residents in the Plymouth County seat of about 10,000. 

The company's two ice cream plants in Le Mars and a third facility in St. George, Utah combine for more than 120 million gallons per year. 

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