How a billionaire brought back Blue Bell ice cream

After a nationwide recall forced Blue Bell to lay off 1,500 in May, the ice cream may be back soon.

Orlin Wagner/AP/File
In this April 10, 2015 file photo, Blue Bell ice cream rests on a grocery store shelf in Lawrence, Kansas.

The Brenham, Tex.-based ice cream company Blue Bell just accepted a "significant investment" from Fort Worth oil billionaire Sid Bass, following a national product recall this past spring.

“We are pleased Sid Bass has made a significant investment with our company. The additional capital will ensure the successful return of our ice cream to the market and our loyal customers,” said Paul Kruse, Blue Bell chief executive officer and president in a press release.

Mr. Bass is ranked #391 on the Forbes List of Billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $1.66 billion. He and his three brothers run the oil company Bass Operating (Bass Energy Production Company), which they inherited from their uncle, Howard Bass. The company primarily sources its oil from Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, Montana, Texas, and West Virginia.

In April, Blue Bell voluntarily recalled all products, from all facilities across the nation, after some of the products were found to be infected with the food-borne bacteria listeria. The recall also led to 1,450 layoffs, the first in the history of the 108-year-old company. Following the layoffs, Kruse recorded a video apology saying, "At Blue Bell, our employees are part of our family, and we did everything we could to keep people on our payroll for as long as possible. At the same time, we have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future." Kruse added, "This is a sad day for all of us at Blue Bell, and for me personally."

Following the complete product recall, numerous postings arose on Craigslist with buyers demanding exorbitant prices of more than $500 for a pint of Blue Bell, “collectors ice cream at its finest.” The company typically makes 20 flavors of ice cream year-round and rotates through 35 additional flavors as well; the ice cream products are available in 23 states, and the company operates 60 distribution facilities around the country.

Blue Bell was the second largest manufacturer of ice cream in the United States, as measured by sales in 2015. Currently the company is privately owned, and the Kruse family operates the company. 

We are excited to be a part of the Blue Bell brand and family,” said Bass in a press release. “Blue Bell is the quality leader in the ice cream industry.  We believe quality is the principle attribute that ensures the success, growth and longevity of a business.”

While there is no word yet on when the famous half-gallons will be returning to freezer shelves, on July 8 Blue Bell issued a statement saying the company had “notified the U.S. FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and state health officials in Alabama that it hopes to begin test production of ice cream at its Sylacauga, AL, facility in the next several weeks.”

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