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Blue Bell Creameries, founded in 1907, is the manufacturer of Blue Bell brand ice cream.
Blue Bell sells its ice cream directly in only 23 states, mostly in the Southern United States, although Blue Bell ice cream has also been eaten aboard the International Space Station and at Camp David. Despite being sold in only 23 states, Blue Bell is the third highest-selling ice cream brand in the United States as a whole.
The Brenham Creamery Company opened in 1907 to purchase excess cream from local dairy farmers and sell butter to people in the Brenham, Texas area. Beginning in 1911, the creamery began to produce small quantities of ice cream.
By 1919, the creamery was in financial trouble and considered closing its doors. The board of directors hired E.F. Kruse, a 23-year-old former schoolteacher, to take over the company on April 1, 1919. Kruse refused to accept a salary for his first few months in the position so that the company would not be placed in further debt. Under his leadership, the company expanded its production of ice cream to the local area and soon became profitable. At his suggestion, the company was renamed Blue Bell Creameries in 1930 after the Texas Bluebell, a wildflower native to Texas, which, like ice cream, thrives in summer.
Until 1936, the creamery made ice cream by the batch. It could create a 10-US-gallon (38 L) batch of ice cream every 20 minutes. In 1936 the company purchased its first continuous ice cream freezer, which could make 80 US gallons (300 L) of ice cream per hour. The ice cream would run through a spigot, allowing it to be poured into any size container.
Kruse was diagnosed with cancer in 1951 and died within 8 weeks. His sons Ed and Howard took over leadership of the company. By the 1960s, the company completely abandoned the production of butter and began focusing solely on ice cream. After many years of selling ice cream only in Brenham, the company began selling in Houston, then in Dallas, and throughout most of Texas. By the end of the 1970s, sales had quadrupled, and by 1980 the creamery was producing over 10 million US gallons (38,000,000 L) of ice cream per year, earning $30 million annually.
In 1989, sales began in Oklahoma, and throughout the 1990s expansion pushed throughout the South Central and Southern United States. In 1992, Blue Bell built a new manufacturing facility in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. A third manufacturing facility opened in Sylacauga, Alabama 4 years later.
Once Blue Bell establishes itself within a market, word-of-mouth usually ensures that consumers in adjacent areas become aware of the brand. Blue Bell has been slow to expand: company executives say they thoroughly research each new market and ensure that all employees in the new markets are fully trained in Blue Bell practices so that product quality can be upheld.
Blue Bell introduced its flagship flavor, Homemade Vanilla, in 1969 and was the first company to mass-produce the flavor Cookies 'n Cream. Although the company at one time made Cookies 'n Cream from Nabisco's Oreo cookies, buying ordinary retail packages, today it bakes its own cookies. As of 1997, Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla was the best-selling single flavor of ice cream in the United States.
As of 2009, the company operates three manufacturing facilities, with the largest facility in Brenham, and auxiliary facilities in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Sylacauga, Alabama. There are also 50 sales and distribution centers, known as branches, spread throughout its 23-state market. These facilities employ a combined 2,800 employees, with 850 of the employees working out of Brenham. In 2006, annual sales exceeded $400 million.
Blue Bell retains control over all aspects of its business, primarily to ensure quality control and the use of the freshest ingredients available. The Kruses claim "the milk we use is so fresh it was grass only yesterday." The company uses milk from approximately 60,000 cows each day, and the cream used during each day's production run is always less than 24 hours old. All production and packaging takes place within Blue Bell facilities, which are able to produce over 100 pints per minute. Drivers of delivery vehicles personally stock store shelves so they can ensure it is handled properly.
Blue Bell holds impressive sales figures, being the third best-selling ice cream in the United States, behind Breyers and Edy's/Dreyer's, despite being sold in only 23 states. The sales area includes southern states between Nevada and Florida and Kansas City, an area that comprises only 20% of the ice cream sales geographic market. By comparison, each of Blue Bell's top four competitors sell its products in over 86% of the United States. To become one of the three biggest ice cream manufacturers, Blue Bell has consistently been the top seller in the majority of the markets the company has entered. Within five months of its entry into Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the company had garnered 35% of the ice cream market. In its home state of Texas, the company has a 52% market share. People living outside the sales area can have the ice cream shipped to them, and former U.S. President George W. Bush often had the ice cream shipped to Camp David during his administration. The astronauts aboard the International Space Station were also treated to Blue Bell in 2006 and 2012 "to help out (the crew's) happiness quotient."
Blue Bell officially expanded its business to Colorado on March 14, 2011, debuting its new flavor exclusive to Colorado: Rocky Mountain Road Ice Cream. While the test market is in the Denver-metro area, there has been speculation that the rest of the state will soon see Blue Bell on store shelves.
On 4 March 2013, Blue Bell Ice Cream began selling in the Richmond and Hampton Roads, VA areas with a new branch being built in the near future in the Richmond area and a smaller facility in the Suffolk, VA area. It was also introduced to Wilmington, NC on 1 April.
Blue Bell produces over 250 different frozen products. Of these, 66 are flavors of ice cream. Twenty of the flavors are offered year-round, while an additional two to three dozen are offered seasonally. In addition to ice cream, the company produces frozen yogurt, sherbet, and an array of frozen treats on a stick.
Unlike competitors which have reduced their standard containers to 48 fluid ounces (1.42 L), Blue Bell continues to sell true half-gallon (64 fl oz/1.89 L) containers, a fact it mentions prominently in its advertising.
R.W. Apple, Jr., of The New York Times claims that "[w]ith clean, vibrant flavors and a rich, luxuriant consistency achieved despite a butterfat content a little lower than some competitors, it hooks you from the first spoonful. Entirely and blessedly absent are the cloying sweetness, chalky texture, and oily, gummy aftertaste that afflict many mass-manufactured ice creams."