Blue Bell Ice Cream, which first appeared in Wilmington in 2013 but then melted away
after a health scare in 2015, is coming back to the area.
The Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries announced this week that it will be expanding its distribution area to include Wilmington and the surrounding cities beginning March 6.
“It has always been our goal to return to the Wilmington area, and we believe that we are in a great position to expand our sales territory next year,” said Ricky Dickson, vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Bell in a news release. “In September, we began selling our ice cream in the central portion of North Carolina and had a very good response. With the addition of Wilmington, Blue Bell will now be available across most of the state.”
Blue Bell officials plan to reopen the company's distribution facility in Wilmington. “We have started hiring personnel and will continue to add more as needed over the next few months,” Dickson said.
Blue Bell initially came to the Cape Fear region in April 2013, with the opening of a transfer station at 3334 U.S. 421. The ice cream was available at Lowes Foods, Wal-Mart, various independent grocery stores, drug stores and convenience stores.
In early 2015, however, it was discovered that listeria, a bacteria that can cause potentially life-threatening infections, had contaminated some Blue Bell products.
On April 20 of that year, Blue Bell Creameries recalled all of its products on the market made at all of its facilities, including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks.
As part of its efforts to combat the bacterial contamination, the company shut down its plants and its 23-state distribution network, which included a hub in Raleigh and a transfer station in Wilmington.
Since then, Blue Bell has slowly been bringing the business back. What was once a larger 23-state network is now in 16 states.
“We are currently in parts of 16 states and available at most major supermarkets,” said company spokeswoman Jenny Van Dorf. “We just re-entered Charlotte on Sept. 12 and expanded into Raleigh on Sept. 19. We look forward to adding the coastal area in March.”
“As we prepared for our return, we knew that it would take time to build inventory to re-enter the market. We began a five-phase re-entry plan in August of 2015,” she said.
No store locations have been released at this time, but the company said ice cream fans can expect to find Blue Bell at most major supermarkets and drug stores when it returns to the area.