Western operation expected to help grow markets.

Blue Bunny® Ice Cream's expansion to national brand status got a boost the end of July when Wells' Dairy's new ice cream production facility went on line in St. George, Utah. It's a significant move for the Le Mars, Iowa-based company, makers of the Blue Bunny brand, as the plant is the first ice cream manufacturing facility outside of the dairy processor's hometown.

Doug Wells, chief operating officer, said the St. George plant will play an integral role in the expansion of Blue Bunny's retail presence into western markets.

"We are expanding westward," said Wells. "To be a top national brand in the next few years, we know based on population trends that we need to have the capability to reach all the way to the coast with our retail grocery products and continue to grow our current western markets like Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah to name a few. St. George has a great transportation infrastructure and is geographically located to minimize transportation costs and maximize access to western markets. It's located within eight hours of nearly every major west coast city. That means a much higher level of service to our customers in the west."

The 90-year-old company currently sells ice cream at retail in more than 30 states throughout the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest, and internationally in places like Mexico and Puerto Rico. Blue Bunny products can also be found in restaurants, sport venues, theme parks, convenience stores, dip shops and off vending trucks nationwide.

Wells' new plant has the capacity to produce 18 million gals of ice cream a year from its initial two production lines.

Packaged goods

Located on a 50-acre site in the Fort Pierce Industrial Park, the $55 million, 160,000 sq ft facility currently employs 50 people. The main freezer has 2.48 million cubic feet of storage space. Construction began in June 2002. The two production lines will initially manufacture packaged ice cream, with the capability to produce 18 million gals per year.

The company's two plants in Le Mars already produce more than 100 million gals of ice cream annually, making Le Mars known as the Ice Cream Capital of the World. The newest of the two, and largest freestanding ice cream facility in the world, was built by Wells' Dairy in 1992 and has undergone several expansions. The most recent is a new high rise freezer scheduled to be in operation in late 2003.

Wells' Dairy's gross sales are projected to top $850 million this year. The company kept growth in mind when planning the facility.

"This plant is designed to expand as we grow," said Wells. "The existing building will accommodate additional production lines. We've purchased enough land and built the infrastructure to allow us to expand as the growth of our Blue Bunny brand continues. We also have the capability of adding components that allow us to manufacture other types of products as we need to add capacity."

Wells said another reason for selecting St. George was the availability of a qualified workforce.

"We wanted a location with a quality workforce that has a strong work ethic," said Wells. "The work ethic of the people in St. George matches well with our high standards for quality and safety."

A public grand opening at the plant is scheduled for next year.

Wells' Dairy, Inc., founded in 1913, is the largest family-owned and managed dairy processor in the United States. The company produces more than 500 Blue Bunny-branded products.