Blue Bell announces new ice cream distribution facilities in Richmond and Suffolk
Blue Bell ice cream is returning to metropolitan Richmond. The Brenham, Texas-based company said Thursday that it would come back to Richmond and surrounding cities in 2019, following the construction of two 14,000-square-foot distribution facilities in Ashland and Suffolk.
“We can’t thank our customers enough for their patience while we work to get back to Richmond and the surrounding areas,” Wayne Hugo, vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Bell, said in a statement.
The company closed its distribution centers in Richmond and Suffolk in spring 2015 as part of the company’s response to a listeria outbreak linked to its plant in Brenham. According to published news reports, 10 people became sick, three died, and the company recalled 8 million gallons of ice cream during the outbreak.
A company spokesman said that, since then, Blue Bell has made necessary enhancements to its operations including equipment, employee training, policies and procedures. As a final assurance, it also implemented a test and hold procedure where ice cream is tested and held at a production facility before it is shipped to distribution centers.
Jenny Van Dorf, public relations manager for Blue Bell Advertising Associates, said in an emailed statement to Virginia Business that the company began returning to its markets in August 2015, gradually returning to 10 of the 12 markets it suspended. “In these markets, facilities were in place and maintained while our operations were suspended, and we needed only to build inventory and staff for the facilities to reopen. To return to Richmond and Suffolk, we will need to build distribution facilities.”
The distribution center in Ashland, expected to be completed in early 2019, will include cold storage space with loading docks, fleet parking and administrative offices. It will serve cities within a 70-mile radius. Blue Bell plans to hire 20 to 30 full-time employees to operate the facility and distribute its products.
The property in Suffolk, located in the Northgate Commerce Park, will follow the same model and also expects to hire up to 30 people. Blue Bell’s return to Suffolk, where it previously had a small distribution facility, comes with support from the Suffolk Economic Development Authority. According to Blue Bell, the authority’s board voted Wednesday to provide the company with a $100,000 economic development investment program (EDIP) grant for the capital investment and job creation.
“We are especially grateful for the assistance from the Suffolk Economic Development Authority and the grant we have been provided,” Hugo said.
“Currently you can purchase Blue Bell in a small section of western Virginia,” he said in a statement. “With distribution locations in Ashland and Suffolk, Blue Bell will be able to expand our sales area to include the eastern portion of Virginia.”
Currently Blue Bell is available in parts of 22 states and produces a line-up of ice cream products, including sherbet and frozen snacks.