Nearly three years after Blue Bell Ice Cream pulled its products from store freezers to deal with a listeria outbreak, the iconic Texas brand is about to make its return to Indiana.
Blue Bell says its ice cream will be available for purchase at Indianapolis retailers beginning March 12.
Jenny Van Dorf, public relations manager for Blue Bell Advertising Associates, said Blue Bell products will be available at Meijers and “select Walmarts as space allows” on March 12.
A number of smaller retailers, including Safeway, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market and Anderson-based Harvest Supermarkets, will also carry the products starting on that day. Products will roll out to additional Walmart locations, as well as Walgreens, in April.
In conjunction with the local relaunch, the company is reopening its Indianapolis distribution center in Park 100, which serves the majority of the state with the exception of northwestern and southwestern Indiana. Once it’s fully staffed with warehouse workers and delivery drivers, that facility should employ about 25 people.
Blue Bell first entered the Indianapolis market in 2010. But the brand has been unavailable in Indiana retail stores since April 2015. Blue Bell issued a voluntary nationwide recall of all products after testing revealed listeria contamination in some items. The resulting outbreak sickened 10 people in Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and four of those people died.
After addressing the issue, Blue Bell returned to market starting in August of that year, starting in Texas with a limited selection of products.
The company, which is privately held, has been slowly ramping back up its production and distribution since then.
“It wasn’t about us getting right back to the market immediately. It was about making the right and best decisions,” Van Dorf said.
Blue Bell makes its ice cream at production facilities in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama. It then ships its products to distribution centers around the U.S., and from there Blue Bell delivery drivers carry the products to store shelves. The company’s distribution footprint focuses mostly on the southern U.S.—the states between Texas and the East Coast.
Indiana is the northernmost state in Blue Bell’s territory, Van Dorf said, which is why it’s one of the final markets to relaunch.
Blue Bell’s Louisville market (including Evansville and southwestern Indiana) and its Albuquerque, New Mexico market (serving the northwest portion of that state) are also set for March 12 product relaunches.
Blue Bell still hasn’t re-entered Kansas City, Kansas, and Richmond, Virginia, Van Dorf said, because the distribution centers serving those markets were leased facilities. Blue Bell still hopes to re-enter those markets once it secures distribution centers, she said.
Blue Bell was founded in 1907 as butter maker Brenham Creamery Co. Ice cream was added to the product line four years later and, in 1930, the company changed its name to Blue Bell Creameries, after the Texas wildflower.